The Genesis of Syntactic Complexity

Diachrony, ontogeny, neuro-cognition, evolution

| University of Oregon
HardboundAvailable
ISBN 9789027232533 | EUR 110.00 | USD 165.00
 
PaperbackAvailable
ISBN 9789027232540 | EUR 36.00 | USD 54.00
 
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ISBN 9789027290052 | EUR 110.00/36.00*
| USD 165.00/54.00*
 
Complex hierarchic syntax is a hallmark of human language. The highest level of syntactic complexity, recursive-embedded clauses, has been singled out by some for a special status as the evolutionary apex of the uniquely - human language faculty - evolutionary yet mysteriously immune to Darwinian adaptive selection. Prof. Givón's book treats syntactic complexity as an integral part of the evolutionary rise of human communication. The book first describes grammar as an adaptive instrument of communication, assembled upon the pre-existing platform of pre-linguistic object- and-event cognition and mental representation. It then surveys the two grand developmental trends of human language: diachrony, the communal enterprise directly responsible for fashioning synchronic morpho-syntax and cross-language diversity; and ontogeny, the individual endeavor directly responsible for acquiring the competent use of grammar. The genesis of syntactic complexity along these two developmental trends is compared with second language acquisition, pre-grammatical pidgin and pre-human communication. The evolutionary relevance of language diachrony, language ontogeny and pidginization is argued for on general bio-evolutionary grounds: It is the organism's adaptive on-line behavior- invention, learning and skill acquisition - that is the common thread running through all three developmental trends. The neuro-cognitive circuits that underlie language, and their evolutionary underpinnings, are described and assessed. Recursive embedding turns out to be not an adaptive target on its own, but the by-product of two distinct adaptive moves: (i) the recruitment of conjoined clauses as modal operators on, or referential specifiers of, other clauses; and (ii) the subsequent condensation of paratactic into syntactic structures.
[Not in series, 146]  2009.  xviii, 366 pp.
Publishing status: Available
Table of Contents
Copyright acknowledgment
xv
Preface
xvii–xviii
Part I. Background
Chapter 1. Complexity: An overview
3–17
Chapter 2. The adaptive approach to grammar
19–37
Part II. Diachrony
Chapter 3. The diachrony of grammar
41–60
Chapter 4. Multiple routes to clause-union: The diachrony of complex verb phrases
61–96
Chapter 5. The diachrony of relative clauses: Syntactic complexity in the noun phrase
97–120
Part III. Ontogeny
Chapter 6. Child language acquisition
123–128
Chapter 7. The ontogeny of complex verb phrases: How children learn to negotiate fact and desire
129–203
Chapter 8. The ontogeny of relative clauses: How children learn to negotiate complex reference
205–240
Chapter 9. Second-language pidgin
241–247
Part IV. Biology
Chapter 10. From single words to verbal clauses: Where do simple clauses come from?
251–281
Chapter 11. The neuro-cognition of syntactic complexity
283–304
Chapter 12. Syntactic complexity and language evolution
305–338
Bibliography
339–355
Index
357–366
“Givón has done it again. He has linked together convincing evidence regarding human evolution, language change, and child language learning to resolve a core issue in cognitive and linguistic science.

The issue on the table is whether or not syntactic complexity depends on a chance mutation in recent human evolution that introduced an entirely novel cognitive ability called recursion. Givón shows that complexity arises instead from the natural logic of combination and variation upon which all biology and development is grounded. He supports this analysis with the most lucid presentation of diachronic data, neurolinguistic findings, and transcript analysis I have ever read. In fact, Givón has not only done it again; he has outdone himself.”
“Language evolution and the rise of linguistic complexity are popular themes in contemporary linguistics, anthropology, the cognitive sciences, archaeology, and other disciplines. A number of the scholars working on these themes use cross-disciplinary approaches but, to my knowledge, none of them has developed an inter-disciplinary framework that would compare to the one proposed in Givón's book The Genesis of Syntactic Complexity. By integrating a range of relevant phenomena into a coherent model of reconstruction, he is able to present a new perspective on how human language evolved -- one that is distinctly more convincing than other perspectives that I am aware of.”
The genesis of syntactic complexity is an exciting and challeng-ing book that succeeds in developing a detailed and consistent framework for interpreting the evolu-tion of human language and the place of syntax in this development. It contains several original ideas and the way these are linked in with the evidence from a wide range of different research disciplines is definitely impressive. Bearing on a very general and fundamental issue, but bringing to it the insights from various very specific subfields, the book can be expected to leave few linguists unmoved. Most importantly, perhaps, it holds out the exciting promise of integrating linguistics with what its author sees as the true mother discipline of the study of mind and behaviour, biology.”
“I consider the book to be one of the most important pieces of research that has been written on language evolution.”
“The book under review is certainly an impressive product of an ambitious and creative mind. It grows from Givón’s long experience in linguistics and related fields, offering a thought-provoking, albeit at times controversial and problematic, alternative to narrow Chomskyan views on grammar and its genesis. The book can be recommended for anyone interested in complex syntax, its genesis, or the functional-adaptive approach to grammar.”
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Subjects
BIC Subject: CFK – Grammar, syntax
BISAC Subject: LAN009000 – LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Linguistics / General
U.S. Library of Congress Control Number:  2008038850 | Marc record