Evolution, Perfection, and Theories of Language

Anna R. Kinsella, Gary F. Marcus

Abstract


In this article it is argued that evolutionary plausibility must be made an important constraining factor when building theories of language. Recent suggestions that presume that language is necessarily a perfect or optimal system are at odds with this position, evolutionary theory showing us that evolution is a meliorizing agent often producing imperfect solutions. Perfection of the linguistic system is something that must be demonstrated, rather than presumed. Empirically, examples of imperfection are found not only in nature and in human cognition, but also in language — in the form of ambiguity, redundancy, irregularity, movement, locality conditions, and extra-grammatical idioms. Here it is argued that language is neither perfect nor optimal, and shown how theories of language which place these proper-ties at their core run into both conceptual and empirical problems.

Keywords


economy; evolutionary inertia; Minimalist Program; optimality; perfection

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