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Title: Evolution as a constraint on theories of syntax : the case against minimalism
Author: Parker, Anna R.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis investigates the evolutionary plausibility of the Minimalist Program. Is such a theory of language reasonable given the assumption that the human linguistic capacity has been subject to the usual forces and processes of evolution? More generally, this thesis is a comment on the manner in which theories of language can and should be constrained. The development of generative syntactic theorising in the late 20th century has led to a much redesigned conception of the human language faculty. The driving question – ‘why is language the way it is?’ – has prompted assumptions of simplicity, perfection, optimality, and economy for language; a minimal system operating in an economic fashion to fit into the larger cognitive architecture in a perfect manner. Studies in evolutionary linguistics, on the other hand, have been keen to demonstrate that language is complex, redundant, and adaptive, Pinker & Bloom’s (1990) seminal paper being perhaps the prime example of this. The question is whether these opposing views can be married in any way. Interdisciplinary evidence is brought to bear on this problem, demonstrating that any reconciliation is impossible. Evolutionary biology shows that perfection, simplicity, and economy do not arise in typically evolving systems, yet the Minimalist Program attaches these characteristics to language. It shows that evolvable systems exhibit degeneracy, modularity, and robustness, yet the Minimalist Program must rule these features out for language. It shows that evolution exhibits a trend towards complexity, yet the Minimalist Program excludes such a depiction of language. By determining where language falls in each of these three cases, the choice between the opposing positions of gradual adaptive evolution and the Minimalist Program is resolved. Language is shown to be imperfect, uneconomic, and non-optimal, and hence a typical biological system. Language is shown to exhibit the key features of evolvability, and hence accords with the usual pressures and constraints of evolution. Language is shown to be both complex and adaptive, and hence amenable to a gradual adaptationist evolutionary account.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available