Prolegomena to a Future Science of Biolinguistics

W. Tecumseh Fitch

Abstract


This essay reviews some of the problems that face biolinguistics if it is to someday succeed in understanding human language from a biological and evolutionary viewpoint. Although numerous sociological problems impede progress at present, these are ultimately soluble. The greater challenges include delineating the computational mechanisms that underlie different aspects of language competence, as implemented in the brain, and under-standing the epigenetic processes by which they arise. The ultimate chal-lenge will be to develop a theory of meaning incorporating non-linguistic conceptual representations, as they exist in the mind of a dog or chimpan-zee, which requires extensions of information theory incorporating context-dependence and relevance. Each of these problems is daunting alone; to-gether they make understanding the biology of language one of the most challenging sets of problems in modern science.

Keywords


biolinguistics; comparative method; computation; deep homo-logy; neurobiology of language

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