A machine for language? Certainly, say the neurophysiologists, busy studying the language specializations of the human brain and trying to identify their evolutionary antecedents. Linguists such as Noam Chomsky talk about machinelike "modules" in the brain for syntax, arguing that language is more an instinct (a complex behavior triggered by simple environmental stimuli) than an acquired skill like riding a bicycle.
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.