Language Acquisition Meets Language Evolution
Article first published online: 14 JUL 2010
Copyright © 2009 Cognitive Science Society, Inc.
Special Issue: Mechanisms of Cognitive Development: Domain-General Learning or Domain-Specific Constraints?
Volume 34, Issue 7, pages 1131–1157, September 2010
How to Cite
Chater, N. and Christiansen, M. H. (2010), Language Acquisition Meets Language Evolution. Cognitive Science, 34: 1131–1157. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2009.01049.x
- Issue published online: 2 SEP 2010
- Article first published online: 14 JUL 2010
- Received 21 July 2008; received in revised form 26 November 2008; accepted 4 March 2009
- Biological adaptation;
- Cognitive development;
- Cultural evolution;
- Evolutionary psychology;
- Language acquisition;
- Language evolution;
- Natural selection;
- Universal grammar
Recent research suggests that language evolution is a process of cultural change, in which linguistic structures are shaped through repeated cycles of learning and use by domain-general mechanisms. This paper draws out the implications of this viewpoint for understanding the problem of language acquisition, which is cast in a new, and much more tractable, form. In essence, the child faces a problem of induction, where the objective is to coordinate with others (C-induction), rather than to model the structure of the natural world (N-induction). We argue that, of the two, C-induction is dramatically easier. More broadly, we argue that understanding the acquisition of any cultural form, whether linguistic or otherwise, during development, requires considering the corresponding question of how that cultural form arose through processes of cultural evolution. This perspective helps resolve the “logical” problem of language acquisition and has far-reaching implications for evolutionary psychology.