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Why Only Us: Language and Evolution

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We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language—“the language faculty”—raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars—a computer scientist and a linguist—addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky explain that until recently the evolutionary question could not be properly posed, because we did not have a clear idea of how to define “language” and therefore what it was that had evolved. But since the Minimalist Program, developed by Chomsky and others, we know the key ingredients of language and can put together an account of the evolution of human language and what distinguishes us from all other animals.Berwick and Chomsky discuss the biolinguistic perspective on language, which views language as a particular object of the biological world; the computational efficiency of language as a system of thought and understanding; the tension between Darwin’s idea of gradual change and our contemporary understanding about evolutionary change and language; and evidence from nonhuman animals, in particular vocal learning in songbirds.

Authors: Chomsky Noam, Berwick Robert C
Publisher: MIT PRESS
Pages: 215
ISBN: 9780262034241
Cover: Hardback
Edition Number: 1
Release Year: 2016

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona. Author of American Power and the New Mandarins and Manufacturing Consent (with Ed Herman), among many other books, he is a linguist, historian, philosopher, and cognitive scientist who has risen to prominence in the American consciousness as a political activist and the nation’s foremost public intellectual.

Robert Pollin is Distinguished University Professor of Economics and Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is also the founder and President of PEAR (Pollin Energy and Retrofits), an Amherst, MA-based green energy company operating throughout the United States. His books include The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy (co-authored 1998); Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity (2003); An Employment-Targeted Economic Program for South Africa (co-authored 2007); A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the United States (co-authored 2008), Back to Full Employment (2012), Greening the Global Economy (2015), and Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal (co-authored 2020). He has worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and numerous non-governmental organizations in several countries and in U.S. states and municipalities on various aspects of building high-employment green economies. He has also directed projects on employment creation and poverty reduction in sub-Saharan Africa for the United Nations Development Program. He has worked with many U.S. non-governmental organizations on creating living wage statutes at both the statewide and municipal levels, on financial regulatory policies, and on the economics of single-payer health care in the United States. In 2018, he co-authored Economic Analysis of Medicare for All. Between 2011– 2016, he was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the European Commission project on Financialization, Economy, Society, and Sustainable Development (FESSUD). He was selected by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers for 2013.”

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