Neo-Darwinian accounts of the evolution of language: 1. Questions about their explanatory focus

Rudolf P. Botha


The neo-Darwinian theory of natural selection, it is generally considered, offers the only adequate conceptual framework for explaining the evolution of complex biological structures. 1 On various recent conceptions of language, moreover, human language is to be taken to be just such a biological structure.2 So it is not really surprising that an increasing volume of work is aimed at constructing nea-Darwinian selectionist accounts of the evolution of language in the human species.3 And, indeed, engaging in this work is potentially profitable in at least two broad ways. It could, for one thing, lead to a better understanding of the beginnings of language, a matter that has baffled scholars for centuries. For another, it could yield important new insights into a range of nonevolutionary aspects of language. Thus, it has become increasingly clear that, in order to develop good selectionist accounts of the evolution of language, a better understanding is required of amongst others:

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