What Lenneberg Got Right: A Homological Program for the Study of Language Evolution

Keywords: homology thinking, character concept, evolutionary novelties, computational mind

Abstract

By 1967, it was clear to Eric Lenneberg that reconstructing the phylogenetic history of language should require the adoption of a non-functional (or Owenian) homology concept for grounding relevant comparisons. Fifty years later, most biolinguistic approaches have betrayed this project, for they routinely derive their conclusions regarding the unique/shared status of language on merely folk grounds — as dramatically illustrated in Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch vs. Pinker & Jackendoff’s debate, or based on functional considerations — as in Chomsky’s recent conceptualization of language as a unique tool for thought. Here we claim that Lenneberg’s project needs to be resumed and we articulate some suggestions about how to conduct it, taking advantage of recent findings and new conceptual insights concerning two crucial levels of analysis actually pinpointed by him — namely, anatomical/molecular structure and physiological function.
Published
2017-12-31