The Darwinian-Like Evolution of Language From Near Incipient Vernaculars to Modern Idioms

Published in Human Evolution – Vol. 31 – n.4 – 2016

DOI: 10.14673/HE201641025
KEY WORDS: language evolution, universal grammar, Nativism, language change, selective advantage, Darwinian linguistics, cognitive linguistics.

For an important school of thought, language evolution simply denotes the biological process whereby humans acquired the potential for language, a potential seen in the form of a skeletal grammar coded in our genes. The corollary of such a nativ-ist view is that language has remained essentially static and that the changes that history has recorded are peripheral and gratuitous. This paper will point out that the empirical support for the nativist view remains wanting and that languages have proceeded along a definite course, continuously trading off ex-isting linguistic features for alternatives with greater selective advantages. Describing and discussing the changes that have taken place from near incipient vernaculars to today’s modern languages is obviously a daunting task. The focus will be on the evolution of linguistic systems. It will be argued that incipi-ent speakers brought to the task of cobbling a linguistic system their experience from a holistic perception of the outside world. The resulting implements were, in the course of evolution, gradually replaced with alternatives especially conceived by an analytical mind to serve linguistic purposes. The specific cases that will be discussed are the shift from agent and patient to subject and object, from head-last to head-first word order, from aspectual to temporal verbal systems and the development of the sentence embedding technique.


Bichakjian, B.H.
Professor Emeritus,
Radboud University,
The Netherlands.