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Language Evolution$
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Morten H. Christiansen and Simon Kirby

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780199244843

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199244843.001.0001

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What Can the Field of Linguistics Tell Us About the Origins of Language?

What Can the Field of Linguistics Tell Us About the Origins of Language?

(p.58) 4 What Can the Field of Linguistics Tell Us About the Origins of Language?
Language Evolution

Frederick J. Newmeyer (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that researchers in linguistics have been slow to join the resurgence of interest in the evolution of language. Part of the reason may be that linguists are not in agreement about how to characterise what evolved, and this complicates uncovering how it may have evolved. Another possible stumbling block appears to be one of the key dogmas in linguistics: uniformitarianism. Almost all linguists take it for granted that, in some important sense, all languages are equal. That is, there is no such thing as a ‘primitive’ language — the language of a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers is no less complex than the language spoken in an industrialised society. A more measured approach to uniformitarianism is needed because there may have been differences in the use of language across language evolution. For example, language may originally have been used as a tool for conceptualisation rather than communication.

Keywords:   linguistics, language, language evolution, uniformitarianism

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