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Compositionality in animals and humans


Townsend, Simon W; Engesser, Sabrina; Stoll, Sabine; Zuberbühler, Klaus; Bickel, Balthasar (2018). Compositionality in animals and humans. PLoS Biology, 16(8):e2006425.

Abstract

A key step in understanding the evolution of human language involves unravelling the origins of language's syntactic structure. One approach seeks to reduce the core of syntax in humans to a single principle of recursive combination, merge, for which there is no evidence in other species. We argue for an alternative approach. We review evidence that beneath the staggering complexity of human syntax, there is an extensive layer of nonproductive, nonhierarchical syntax that can be fruitfully compared to animal call combinations. This is the essential groundwork that must be explored and integrated before we can elucidate, with sufficient precision, what exactly made it possible for human language to explode its syntactic capacity, transitioning from simple nonproductive combinations to the unrivalled complexity that we now have.

Abstract

A key step in understanding the evolution of human language involves unravelling the origins of language's syntactic structure. One approach seeks to reduce the core of syntax in humans to a single principle of recursive combination, merge, for which there is no evidence in other species. We argue for an alternative approach. We review evidence that beneath the staggering complexity of human syntax, there is an extensive layer of nonproductive, nonhierarchical syntax that can be fruitfully compared to animal call combinations. This is the essential groundwork that must be explored and integrated before we can elucidate, with sufficient precision, what exactly made it possible for human language to explode its syntactic capacity, transitioning from simple nonproductive combinations to the unrivalled complexity that we now have.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics
06 Faculty of Arts > Center for Linguistics
08 Research Priority Programs > Evolution in Action: From Genomes to Ecosystems
Dewey Decimal Classification:490 Other languages
890 Other literatures
410 Linguistics
Language:English
Date:2018
Deposited On:24 Aug 2018 09:24
Last Modified:30 Sep 2018 23:59
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1544-9173
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2006425
PubMed ID:30110319

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