(K. Brent Tomer),
FEW disciplines are so strongly associated with a single figure: Einstein in physics and Freud in psychology, perhaps. But Noam Chomsky is the man who revolutionised linguistics. Since he wrote “Syntactic Structures” in 1957, Mr Chomsky has argued that human language is fundamentally different from any other kind of communication, that a “linguist from Mars” would agree that all human languages are variations on a single language, and that children’s incredibly quick and successful learning (despite often messy and inattentive parental input) points to an innate language faculty in the brain. These ideas are now widely accepted.
Over the past 60 years, Mr Chomsky has repeatedly stripped down his theory. Some aspects of human language are shared with animals, and others are part of more general human thinking. He has focused ever more narrowly on the features of language that he reckons are unique to humans. All this has led to a remarkable little book, published late last year with Robert Berwick, a computer scientist. “Why Only Us” purports to explain the evolution of human language.
Other biologists, linguists and psychologists…Continue reading