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Evolution of Language notes fall 2011

Evolution of Language notes fall 2011 - Evolution of...

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Evolution of Language 5 Basic Q’s of Linguistics o What exactly do people know when they know a language? o How is knowledge of language acquired? o How is knowledge of language put to use? o How is knowledge of language implemented in the brain? o How was knowledge of language formed? Adaptation o Characteristic that enhances the survival or reproduction of organisms that bear it, relative to alternative character states o i.e. human eye (complex structure and made up of many interdependent parts) o Reasonable to think of capacity for language as complex adaptation along lines of human eye? Parallel architecture of linguistic knowledge: components for sound, for syntax, and for meaning are linked Watchmaker argument (Paley 1802) o Just as the intricacy of a watch implies an intelligent, purposeful watchmaker, so every aspect of living nature, such as the human eye, displays “every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which exists in the watch,” and must, likewise, have had a designer. Natural selection o Darwin’s theory of adaptation involves 3 postulates: The struggle for existence Ability of a population to expand is infinite Ability of any environment to support populations is always finite Variation in fitness Organisms within populations vary Variation affects ability of individuals to survive and reproduce i.e. eye color The inheritance of variation Variation is transmitted from parents to offspring When 1-3 hold for a given population the result is adaptations More individuals born than can survive Recurring struggle for existence Any variations enabling survival will have better chance of reproducing Selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form Comparative method o Use of studies on multiple related species to analyze the evolutionary history and adaptive function of a trait o Homologous traits: traits related by descent from shared, ancestral traits i.e. color vision in chimps and humans o Analogous traits: traits that evolved independently in two separate lineages (convergent evolution)
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i.e. color vision in humans and butterflies Language and natural selection (Patel 2008) o Babbling o Anatomy of the human vocal tract o Vocal learning o Precocious learning of linguistic sound structure o Critical periods for language acquisition o
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