3.12.2004

Theorists: Notes Toward Building a Testable Theory

Science recently had a multidisciplinary issue on language. It's worth checking out at the library (or ordering photocopies of the pertinent articles from the interlibrary loan). If you've got the money, the magazine's worth a subscription. The front half is written for the general public while the latter has the specific articles in great detail, written for specialists--articles which are difficult to wade through but it can be done: the more you wade, the easier it gets.

From the introductory article "First Words" by Elizabeth Culotta and Brooks Hanson:

"But how did this powerful ability [to string meaningful words together] evolve? And how has language changed through time, from what was presumably one mother tongue to the babel of thousands of languages spoken today? This interdisciplinary special issue explores these twin problems of language evolution, and also peers ahead into our ever-evolving linguistic future. Five News stories explore the history and prehistory of language evolution, from the origin of speech to recent language changes, and three Viewpoints speculate on the future. Elsewhere in this issue, three Book Reviews explore the latest in a growing crop of books on this topic.

"In several cases, old theories associated with leading scholars are breaking down. For example, as Holden reports (p. 1316), linguists and neuroscientists armed with new types of data are moving beyond the nonevolutionary paradigm once suggested by Noam Chomsky, and tackling the origins of speech head-on...."

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