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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

Universal Grammar and Semiotic Constraints

Chapter:
(p.111) 7 Universal Grammar and Semiotic Constraints
Source:
Language Evolution
Author(s):

Terrence W. Deacon (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199244843.003.0007

This chapter places the human ability for complex symbolic communication at the centre of language evolution. It rejects the notion that the many subpatterns of language structure that can be found across all the languages of the worlds — the so-called language universals — are products of cultural processes, or that they reflect a set of evolved innate constraints (a language-specific ‘Universal Grammar’). Instead, evidence from philosophy and semiotics suggests that they derive from a third kind of constraint originating from within the linguistic symbol system itself. Because of the complex relationships between words and what they refer to (as symbols), semiotic constraints arise from within the symbol system when putting words together to form phrases and sentences. During the evolution of language, humans probably discovered the set of universal semiotic constraints. These constraints govern not only human language but also, by their very nature, any system of symbolic communication, terrestrial or otherwise.

Keywords:   language, language evolution, language universals, semiotics, philosophy, semiotic constraints, symbols, symbolic communication, Universal Grammar

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