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Lingua Ex Machina Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky With the Human Brain cover
  • ISBN: 9780262032735
  • ISBN10: 0262032732

Lingua Ex Machina Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky With the Human Brain

by William H. Calvin

  • List Price: $55.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Mit Pr
  • Publish date: 04/01/2000
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Eminent linguist Noam Chomsky says (and most linguists accept) that humans are hardwired for speech: as Calvin and Bickerton have it, "Language is a biologically-determined, species-specific, genetically-transmitted capacity", a capacity people have and chipmunks don't. "The next step is for someone to try and find out exactly how it evolved". The authors propose to do just that in this speculative and quite stimulating, if occasionally rambling, volume. Aiming both to explain and to link brain science, linguistics and evolutionary theory, Calvin (The Cerebral Code), who teaches psychiatry at the University of Washington, and Bickerton (Language and Species), a professor of linguistics at the University of Hawaii, have written not a straightforward exposition but a simulated exchange of letters, "set" in an Italian villa. "Bill" writes to "Derek" with a theory or a question, and "Derek" writes back with an example or an answer (and a remark on the scenery). The informal tone helps the authors present material that can get quite convoluted. They write of neurons and the "circuits" or "neural committees" they form; of parts of the brain, such as the arcuate fasciculus; of debates among Darwinians over adaptation, "exaptation", altruism and "group selection". They discuss apes' social groups and emotions (which "do not differ substantially from ours"); protolanguage (what current apes and ancient hominids speak), which has signs and meanings but no real syntax; and finally reach their own theory, in which changes in hominids' neural storage capacity interact with Darwinian social demands to push protolanguage over the top, giving the first human beings the special, evolved ability toformulate, exchange and understand sentences as complex as the one you've just read.
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