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Bio-linguistics: The Santa Barbara Lectures (review)
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REVIEWS Bio-linguistics: The Santa Barbara lectures. By TALMY GIVÓN. Amsterdam: John Benjamins , 2002. Pp. xvii, 383. ISBN 1588112268. $52.95 (Hb). Reviewed by ELENA MASLOVA, Stanford University and University of Bielefeld Taking for granted ‘the adaptive nature of anything human’ (xvi), Talmy Givón explores linguistic implications of this assumption. In a nutshell, G’s message is that ‘the prospects of a profound understanding of human language outside an evolutionary framework are rather dim’ (123); that is, (i) the properties of human languages, both constant and variable, should be explained in terms of processes that bring them about, and (ii) these processes must be viewed as Darwinian in the sense that they select structures and features better adapted to serve the function they are being used for. The evolutionary framework, G contends, is indispensable for an analysis of both types of processes that have shaped modern languages, the emergence of language capacity and language change. Notwithstanding the obvious difference between the mechanisms of genetic and cultural transmission, the Darwinian framework is taken to be applicable not only to biological evolution but also to the process of language change for two reasons: (i) the pivotal role of ADAPTIVE BEHAVIOR as the pacemaker of both processes, and (ii) certain structural parallels between languages and species.1 G envisions the emergence of language as a process of CODE DEVELOPMENT, understood as a kind of adaptive behavior based on pre-existing biological capacities. Although G considers it highly unlikely that language could have evolved without emergence of some dedicated neural circuitry (124), he focuses primarily on the role of prelinguistic brain modules. In particular, the NP vs. clause distinction is traced back to two streams of visual-information processing, one responsible for object recognition and one for spatial relations and motion (Chs. 4 and 5). This looks like an interesting alternative to Carstairs-McCarthy’s (1999) hypothesis of the syllabic origin of syntax; yet, as far as I understand, there is no way to decide, at the present time, which one is closer to the fact of the matter. Even if, as Hurford (2003) puts it, the goal of language evolution research is ‘to explain the present’ rather than to establish the facts, the easy coexistence of such neatly opposite hypotheses seems to undermine the potential explanatory value of the evolutionary dimension in linguistics. The general outline of G’s extension of the evolutionary framework to the domain of language change resembles William Croft’s (2000) more elaborate ‘theory of utterance selection’, insofar as it combines the view of language as a population of utterances and the behavior of language users as the locus of causal mechanism of change. The crucial difference is that G’s interpretation of the ‘adaptive’ nature of linguistic performance is based solely on the communicative function of language, thus in effect disregarding the growing body of research on change in progress. Even when G talks about the role of intralinguistic variation (Ch. 2), the discussion is confined to variation across grammatical constructions; sociolinguistic variables appear to play no role in G’s theory of language change. In fact, he never discusses possible mechanisms of propagation of ‘adaptive’ variants in language change, arguably the key problem for any extension of the evolutionary framework to a domain where selection through survival and reproduction rates cannot possibly work. The only hint at the nature of the linguistic selection mechanism can be found in the presumed parallelism between grammaticalization and natural selection: functional extensions in grammar are viewed as the counterpart of adaptive behavior, and the subsequent structural changes as the counterpart of genetic shifts. Yet if this analogy were taken seriously, its implications for linguistics would be opposite to those drawn by G. His contention that 1 The notion of adaptive behavior is also occasionally applied at the metalinguistic level, where it is used to justify or to condemn particular linguistic theoretical concepts (for example, the prototype-based categories of ‘subject’ and ‘object’ (adaptive, Ch. 2) and the concept of configurationality (maladaptive, Ch. 3)) and behavioral strategies (for example, academic negativity (adaptive, Ch. 10)). 245 LANGUAGE, VOLUME 81, NUMBER 1 (2005) 246 linguistics should follow the example of biology, ‘a...