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Title: Language : what it's for and why we have it
Author: Webster, Annie Jane
ISNI:       0000 0004 7971 7548
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2019
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In this thesis, I agree with the notion that human natural languages are underpinned by an innate faculty of language which predisposes us to acquire the structural aspects of language. Theories pertaining to its primary function, however, are lacking as they are either out of touch with the bigger picture of human social life (Berwick and Chomsky 2017) or, if they do embrace this, they are met with challenges from evolutionary and communication theory (Pinker and Bloom 1990; Jackendoff 2002). In order to give a more satisfactory evolutionary account of the faculty of language, I propose that we take inspiration from the alternative view that natural languages are social entities which are wholly learnt and exist to improve human cooperation and social living (Tomasello 2014; Sterelny 2012). An important aspect of this view is seeing that humans have an advanced form of social cognition-that is the ability to understand that other creatures also have minds-which underpins their cooperative and communicative capabilities. I suggest, instead, that we ask what the faculty of language brings to this viewpoint. My response is that an innate linguistic structure is able to bring to mind new thoughts, ideas, or explanations in human communicative discourse and in situations where it would not be possible with just standalone words or pointing and pantomime. In more technical terms 'the primary function of the faculty of language is to make relevant what is not salient in communicative discourses'. The faculty of language, thus, introduces a new paradigm to human communication and social living. In conclusion, we will appreciate that an approach which integrates valuable lessons from viewpoints that are usually diametrically opposed provides a picture of language evolution that is more holistic and streamlined. My theory, therefore, appreciates and combines our understanding of linguistic structure, social cognition, human communication, and evolution in a way that is not seen in either of the theories that precede it.
Supervisor: Cain, Mark ; Boulter, Stephen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral