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Seminar: One-step wonder: Why Berwick and Chomsky’s account of language origins is a non-starter - Ron Planer, 8 June

Australian National University, Evolution

Date: 6 June 2016

Seminar: One-step wonder: Why Berwick and Chomsky’s account of language origins is a non-starter
Speaker: Ron Planer
Date: 8th June
Time: 4-5.15pm
Venue: Engma Room (5019), HC Coombs Building, ANU


In their recent book Why Only Us? (2015), Berwick and Chomsky present a detailed account of language evolution. In this talk, I explain their account and then diagnose a serious problem with it. Berwick and Chomsky maintain that language evolved via a single evolutionary step, and that it was initially selected for and spread due to its beneficial effects on human thinking, not communication. The problem is that Berwick and Chomsky equivocate between two senses of “language” in arguing for these two claims: there is no one sense of “language” on which it’s plausible that language might have both evolved via a single step and upgraded human thinking. As such, I conclude that Berwick and Chomsky must abandon at least one core claim of their account. 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University