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Why and how the problem of the evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is hard1

  • Stevan Harnad (a1)


Christiansen & Chater (C&C) suggest that language is an organism, like us, and that our brains were not selected for Universal Grammar (UG) capacity; rather, languages were selected for learnability with minimal trial-and-error experience by our brains. This explanation is circular: Where did our brain's selective capacity to learn all and only UG-compliant languages come from?



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Cangelosi, A. & Harnad, S. (2001) The adaptive advantage of symbolic theft over sensorimotor toil: Grounding language in perceptual categories. Evolution of Communication 4(1):117–42. Available at:
Chomsky, N. (2005a) Some simple evo-devo theses: How true might they be for language? Paper presented at the Alice V. and David H. Morris Symposium on Language and Communication: The Evolution of Language, Stony Brook University, New York, October 14, 2005. Available at:
Harnad, S. (1976) Induction, evolution and accountability. In: Origins and evolution of language and speech, ed. Harnad, S., Steklis, H. D. & Lancaster, J. B., pp. 5860. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Available at:
Harnad, S. (2005) To cognize is to categorize: Cognition is categorization. In: Handbook of categorization, ed. Lefebvre, C. & Cohen, H.. Elsevier. Available at:
Harnad, S. (2007) From knowing how to knowing that: Acquiring categories by word of mouth. Paper presented at the Kaziemierz Naturalized Epistemology Workshop (KNEW), Kaziemierz, Poland, September 2, 2007. Available at:
Pinker, S. & Bloom, P. (1990) Natural language and natural selection. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13:707–27; discussion 727–84. Available at:

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Why and how the problem of the evolution of Universal Grammar (UG) is hard1

  • Stevan Harnad (a1)


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