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The language faculty that wasn't: a usage-based account of natural language recursion.

ABSTRACT: In the generative tradition, the language faculty has been shrinking-perhaps to include only the mechanism of recursion. This paper argues that even this view of the language faculty is too expansive. We first argue that a language faculty is difficult to reconcile with evolutionary considerations. We then focus on recursion as a detailed case study, arguing that our ability to process recursive structure does not rely on recursion as a property of the grammar, but instead emerges gradually by piggybacking on domain-general sequence learning abilities. Evidence from genetics, comparative work on non-human primates, and cognitive neuroscience suggests that humans have evolved complex sequence learning skills, which were subsequently pressed into service to accommodate language. Constraints on sequence learning therefore have played an important role in shaping the cultural evolution of linguistic structure, including our limited abilities for processing recursive structure. Finally, we re-evaluate some of the key considerations that have often been taken to require the postulation of a language faculty.

SUBMITTER: Christiansen MH 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC4550780 | BioStudies | 2015-01-01T00:00:00Z


REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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