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Brains, genes, and language evolution: A new synthesis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2008

Morten H. Christiansen
Department of Psychology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, and Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM 87501christiansen@cornell.edu
Nick Chater
Division of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom.


Our target article argued that a genetically specified Universal Grammar (UG), capturing arbitrary properties of languages, is not tenable on evolutionary grounds, and that the close fit between language and language learners arises because language is shaped by the brain, rather than the reverse. Few commentaries defend a genetically specified UG. Some commentators argue that we underestimate the importance of processes of cultural transmission; some propose additional cognitive and brain mechanisms that may constrain language and perhaps differentiate humans from nonhuman primates; and others argue that we overstate or understate the case against co-evolution of language genes. In engaging with these issues, we suggest that a new synthesis concerning the relationship between brains, genes, and language may be emerging.

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