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Hardcover | $45.00 Short | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780262013567 | 492 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 20 color illus., 40 b&w illus., 6 tables| September 2009

Essential Info

Biological Foundations and Origin of Syntax


Syntax is arguably the most human-specific aspect of language. Despite the proto-linguistic capacities of some animals, syntax appears to be the last major evolutionary transition in humans that has some genetic basis. Yet what are the elements to a scenario that can explain such a transition? In this book, experts from linguistics, neurology and neurobiology, cognitive psychology, ecology and evolutionary biology, and computer modeling address this question.

Unlike most previous work on the evolution of language, Biological Foundations and Origin of Syntax follows through on a growing consensus among researchers that language can be profitably separated into a number of related and interacting but largely autonomous functions, each of which may have a distinguishable evolutionary history and neurological base. The contributors argue that syntax is such a function.

The book describes the current state of research on syntax in different fields, with special emphasis on areas in which the findings of particular disciplines might shed light on problems faced by other disciplines. It defines areas where consensus has been established with regard to the nature, infrastructure, and evolution of the syntax of natural languages; summarizes and evaluates contrasting approaches in areas that remain controversial; and suggests lines for future research to resolve at least some of these disputed issues.

Strüngmann Forum Reports

About the Editor

Derek Bickerton is Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus, at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu. He is the author of Roots of Language, Language and Species, and Language and Human Behavior.


"This is a refreshingly clear volume on what is a technical but important subject. Even those who only have a passing interest in language will find it to be an interesting book to own.", Mark Pagel, The Quarterly Review of Biology


"This book continues the debate between those who see the core rules of syntax as the result of biological evolution and those who stress cultural evolution atop more general brain functions. To this reader, the chapters enriched by consideration of brain and computation swing the weight of evidence to the latter camp."
Michael Arbib, Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Neuroscience, University of Southern California