Compositionality in animals and humans
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A key step in understanding the evolution of human language involves unravelling the origins of language’s syntactic structure. One approach seeks to reduce the core of syntax in humans to a single principle of recursive combination, merge, for which there is no evidence in other species. We argue for an alternative approach. We review evidence that beneath the staggering complexity of human syntax, there is an extensive layer of nonproductive, nonhierarchical syntax that can be fruitfully compared to animal call combinations. This is the essential groundwork that must be explored and integrated before we can elucidate, with sufficient precision, what exactly made it possible for human language to explode its syntactic capacity, transitioning from simple nonproductive combinations to the unrivalled complexity that we now have.
Townsend , S W , Engesser , S , Stoll , S , Zuberbühler , K & Bickel , B 2018 , ' Compositionality in animals and humans ' , PLoS One , vol. 16 , no. 8 , e2006425 . https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2006425
© 2018 Townsend et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
DescriptionFunding: University of Zurich Research Priority Program (grant number URPP, Evolution in Action; URPP U-702-06). Received by SWT and BB. Swiss National Science Foundation (grant number SWT: PP003_163860; SE: PP003_163860; P1ZHP3_151648; KZ grant: 31003A_166458). Received by SWT, SE and KZ. European Research Council under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme (grant number FP7/2007-2013/ ERC grant agreement no (615988)). Received by SS.
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