Chapter published in:Essays on Linguistic Realism
Edited by Christina Behme and Martin Neef
[Studies in Language Companion Series 196] 2018
► pp. 61–78
The relevance of realism for language evolution theorizing
It may appear counterintuitive to suggest a connection between language evolution and linguistic realism. Only biological objects evolve but linguistic realism holds that natural languages are abstract objects. However, given the fact that currently no approach to language evolution can account satisfactorily for all aspects of language, I suggest that reconsidering the ontological status of natural languages might lead to novel approaches to language evolution puzzles. Most contemporary work on language evolution assumes without argument that natural languages are either biological entities or produced by biological organs (human brains), and focuses on brain evolution, language acquisition, and communication systems of other primates. Yet, so far such approaches have been unable to account for some aspects of grammar. Furthermore, to date little is known about the bio-physiological implementation of natural languages. I suggest that the debate could profit from paying closer attention to the ontological status of language and the exact relationship between language and biology. Finally, I discuss the kinds of evidence used in linguistic research and demonstrate that, contra to widespread belief, the linguistic Platonist is neither relying on inferior evidence nor ruling out evidence that is clearly relevant to linguistic research.
Keywords: realism, language evolution, innatism, animal communication, linguistic evidence
Published online: 26 July 2018
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