Major Language Evolution Papers # 3

The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?

-Marc D. Hauser, Noam Chomsky & W. Tecumseh Fitch

Who’s it by?

The big dog Chomsky, granddaddy of modern linguistics, in association with Tecumseh Fitch and Mark Hauser, a psychologist and a biologist respectively, both heavily involved in the field of language evolution.

What’s it about?

A much misunderstood paper and probably the most debated paper on language evolution there has ever been. In it the authors make an impassioned plea for a comparative approach to solving the language evolution problem, and draw up a list of features that belong to the narrow language faculty possessed by humans (just recursion) and a those which belong to a broader definition of language features that can be found in the animal kingdom (everything else).

Why should an evolutionary linguist care?

Because this is the only meaningful attempt to reconcile language evolution with the chomskian consensus in modern linguistics. However, this paper is probably more Hauser and Fitch than Chomsky, and lots of people have used it to engage in a bit of Chomsky bashing by misrepresenting its central claims. The distinction between the FLN and FLB is meant to emphasise the value of the broad language faculty, rather than seeking to claim something special about the narrow language faculty, at least from Hauser and Fitch’s perspective.

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March 2008
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