Volume 3, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2589-1588
  • E-ISSN: 2589-1596
Buy:$35.00 + Taxes



This paper discusses Hubert Haider’s target-article “Grammar change: A case of Darwinian cognitive evolution”. I show why such an article is fascinating (and unconventional), although I will mainly concentrate on several disagreements with Haider and will suggest alternative views to those contended by this scholar. My discussion will highlight five main issues: (1) Haider assumes a purely Neo-Darwinian (i.e. genocentric) view of evolution and inheritance, lacking a more pluralistic approach; (2) Haider rejects the idea of language as a biological phenomenon, while at the same time he seems to assume several characteristics related to a biologically seated trait; (3) as opposed to Haider’s suggestion, the computational system does not need to be language-specific; (4) Haider’s divide between the procedural and declarative components of grammar is perhaps too strict regarding (grammatical) change; and (5) Haider considers that there is no scientific way of deciding the question of language origins and evolution and that complex grammars are too recent. However, I show that a language-like computational power (and perhaps complex grammars) already existed many thousands of years ago.


This is a commentary article in response to the following content:
Grammar change

Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


  1. Baddeley, A.
    (1986) Working memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  2. (2007) Working memory, thought, and action. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:  10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198528012.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198528012.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  3. Balari, S., Benítez-Burraco, A., Camps, M., Longa, V. M., Lorenzo, G. & Uriagereka, J.
    (2011) The archaeological record speaks: Bridging anthropology and linguistics. International Journal of Evolutionary Biology, vol.2011, 1–17. doi:  10.4061/2011/382679
    https://doi.org/10.4061/2011/382679 [Google Scholar]
  4. Balari, S., Benítez-Burraco, A., Longa, V. M. & Lorenzo, G.
    (2013) The fossils of language: What are they, who has them, how did they evolve?InC. Boeckx & K. K. Grohmann (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of biolinguistics (pp.489–523). New York: Cambridge University Press. doi:  10.1017/CBO9780511980435.028
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511980435.028 [Google Scholar]
  5. Balari, S., Benítez-Burraco, A., Camps, M., Longa, V. M. & Lorenzo, G.
    (2018) My head’s in knots. On Uriagereka’s generalization and the knot-sentence connection. InÁ. Gallego & R. Martin (Eds.), Language, syntax, and the natural sciences (pp.269–294). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781316591529.015
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316591529.015 [Google Scholar]
  6. Balari, S. & Lorenzo, G.
    (2009) Computational phenotypes: Where the theory of computation meets Evo-Devo. Biolinguistics, 3(1), 2–60.
    [Google Scholar]
  7. (2013) Computational phenotypes. Towards an evolutionary developmental biolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:  10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199665464.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199665464.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  8. Bateson, P.
    (2001) Behavioral development and Darwinian evolution. InS. Oyama, P. E. Griffiths & R. D. Gray (Eds.), Cycles of contingencies. Developmental systems and evolution (pp.149–166). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Berwick, R. C. & Chomsky, N.
    (2016) Why only us. Language and evolution. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. doi:  10.7551/mitpress/9780262034241.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/9780262034241.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  10. Blumberg, M. S.
    (2005) Basic instinct. The genesis of behavior. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  11. Botha, R. P.
    (2008) Prehistoric shell beads as a window on language evolution. Language and Communication, 28, 197–212. doi:  10.1016/j.langcom.2007.05.002
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2007.05.002 [Google Scholar]
  12. (2010) On the soundness of inferring modern language from symbolic behavior. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 20, 345–356. doi:  10.1017/S0959774310000454
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774310000454 [Google Scholar]
  13. Camps, M. & Uriagereka, J.
    (2006) The gordian knot of linguistic fossils. InJ. Rosselló & J. Martín (Eds.), The biolinguistic turn. Issues on language and biology (pp.34–65). Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Coolidge, F. L. & Wynn, T.
    (2004) A cognitive and neuropsychological perspective on the Châtelperronian. Journal of Anthropological Research, 60, 55–73. doi:  10.1086/jar.60.1.3631008
    https://doi.org/10.1086/jar.60.1.3631008 [Google Scholar]
  15. (2009) The rise of Homo sapiens. The evolution of modern thinking. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. doi:  10.1002/9781444308297
    https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444308297 [Google Scholar]
  16. Dawkins, R.
    (1976) The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  17. Dennett, D. C.
    (1995) Darwin’s dangerous idea. Evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Dixon, R. M. W.
    (2010) Basic linguistic theory. Vol. 1: Methodology. New York: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  19. (2016) Are some languages better than others?New York: Oxford University Press. doi:  10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766810.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766810.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  20. Donald, M.
    (1991) Origins of the modern mind. Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  21. Griffiths, P. E. & Gray, R. D.
    (2001) Darwinism and developmental systems. InS. Oyama, P. E. Griffiths & R. D. Gray (Eds.), Cycles of contingencies. Developmental systems and evolution (pp.195–218). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Heine, B. & Kuteva, T.
    (2007) The genesis of grammar. A reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Jablonka, E. & Lamb, M. J.
    (2005) Evolution in four dimensions. Genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic variation in the history of life. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. Jablonka, E. & Raz, G.
    (2009) Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance: Prevalence, mechanisms, and implications for the study of heredity and evolution. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 84(2), 131–176. doi:  10.1086/598822
    https://doi.org/10.1086/598822 [Google Scholar]
  25. Johnston, T. D. & Edwards, L.
    (2002) Genes, interactions, and the development of behavior. Psychological Review, 109, 26–34. doi:  10.1037/0033‑295X.109.1.26
    https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.109.1.26 [Google Scholar]
  26. Lass, R.
    (1997) Historical linguistics and language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:  10.1017/CBO9780511620928
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511620928 [Google Scholar]
  27. Lieberman, P.
    (2000) Human language and our reptilian brain. The subcortical bases of speech, syntax, and thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  28. (2006) Toward an evolutionary biology of language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  29. Lightfoot, D.
    (1999) The development of language. Acquisition, change, and evolution. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  30. (2006) How new languages emerge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:  10.1017/CBO9780511616204
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511616204 [Google Scholar]
  31. Longa, V. M.
    (2013a) The evolution of the faculty of language from a Chomskyan perspective: Bridging linguistics and biology. Journal of Anthropological Sciences, 91, 15–62.
    [Google Scholar]
  32. (2013b) Un análisis computacional de las líneas prehistóricas: diseños geométricos y lenguaje. Zephyrus. Revista de Prehistoria y Arqueología, LXXI, 15–43.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. (2018) That was not ‘Lenneberg’s dream’. Historiographia Linguistica, 45(1/2), 179–209. doi:  10.1075/hl.00020.lon
    https://doi.org/10.1075/hl.00020.lon [Google Scholar]
  34. (2019a) Adaptive plasticity. InT. K. Shackelford & V. A. Wickes-Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Berlin: Springer. doi:  10.1007/978‑3‑319‑16999‑6_2122‑1
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_2122-1 [Google Scholar]
  35. (2019b) Making prehistoric lines speak: Inferring language and mental computations from ‘natural’ lines of parietal art. Philology. An International Journal on the Evolution of Languages, Cultures and Texts, 4, 243–278. doi:  10.3726/PHIL042019.7
    https://doi.org/10.3726/PHIL042019.7 [Google Scholar]
  36. Longa, V. M. & Lorenzo, G.
    (2012) Theoretical linguistics meets development: Explaining FL from an epigenecist point of view. InC. Boeckx, M. C. Horno-Chéliz & J. L. Mendívil-Giró (Eds.): Language, from a biological point of view. Current issues in biolinguistics (pp.52–84). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
    [Google Scholar]
  37. (2019) The study of instinct. InT. K. Shackelford & V. A. Wickes-Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Berlin: Springer. doi:  10.1007/978‑3‑319‑16999‑6_1346‑1
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1346-1 [Google Scholar]
  38. Lorenzo, G. & Longa, V. M.
    (2019) Development. InT. K. Shackelford & V. A. Wickes-Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Berlin: Springer. doi:  10.1007/978‑3‑319‑16999‑6_473‑1
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_473-1 [Google Scholar]
  39. Mameli, M. & Bateson, P.
    (2006) Innateness and the sciences. Biology and Philosophy, 21, 155–188. doi:  10.1007/s10539‑005‑5144‑0
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-005-5144-0 [Google Scholar]
  40. Maynard-Smith, J. & Szathmáry, E.
    (1999) The origins of life: From the birth of life to the origin of language. New York: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  41. Mendívil-Giró, J.-L.
    (2019) Did language evolve through language change? On language change, language evolution and grammaticalization theory. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics, 4(1), 124, 1–30. doi:  10.5334/gjgl.895
    https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.895 [Google Scholar]
  42. Moore, D. S.
    (2001): The dependent gene. The fallacy of ‘nature vs. nurture’. New York: Henry Holt.
    [Google Scholar]
  43. Oyama, S.
    (2000) The ontogeny of information. Developmental systems and evolution, 2nd ed.Durham, NC: Duke University Press. doi:  10.2307/j.ctv1220mm5
    https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1220mm5 [Google Scholar]
  44. (2001) Terms in tension: What do you do when all the good words are taken?InS. Oyama, P. E. Griffiths & R. D. Gray (Eds.), Cycles of contingencies. Developmental systems and evolution (pp.177–193). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  45. Piattelli-Palmarini, M. & Uriagereka, J.
    (2005) The evolution of the narrow faculty of language: The skeptical view and a reasonable conjecture. Lingue e Linguaggio, IV, 27–79.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Russell, J.
    (1996) Development and evolution of the symbolic function: The role of working memory. InP. Mellars & K. Gibson (Eds.), Modelling the early human mind (pp.159–170). Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
    [Google Scholar]
  47. Sampson, G.
    (2009) A linguistic axiom challenged. InG. Sampson, D. Gil & P. Trudgill (Eds.), Language Complexity as an Evolving Variable (pp.1–18). New York: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  48. Samuels, R.
    (2004) Innateness and cognitive science. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(3), 136–141. doi:  10.1016/j.tics.2004.01.010
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2004.01.010 [Google Scholar]
  49. Tremblay, P. & Dick, A. S.
    (2016) Broca and Wernicke are dead, or moving past the classic model of language neurobiology. Brain & Language, 162, 60–71. doi:  10.1016/j.bandl.2016.08.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandl.2016.08.004 [Google Scholar]
  50. Ullman, M. T.
    (2001) The declarative/procedural model of lexicon and grammar. Journal of Psycholinguistics Research, 30(1), 37–69. doi:  10.1023/A:1005204207369
    https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005204207369 [Google Scholar]
  51. (2004) Contributions of memory circuits to language: The declarative/procedural model. Cognition, 92, 231–270. doi:  10.1016/j.cognition.2003.10.008
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2003.10.008 [Google Scholar]
  52. Vanhaeren, M., d’Errico, F., Stringer, C., James, S. L., Todd, J. A. & Mienis, H. K.
    (2006) Middle Paleolithic shell beads in Israel and Algeria. Science, 312, 1785–1788. doi:  10.1126/science.1128139
    https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1128139 [Google Scholar]
  53. West-Eberhard, M.
    (2003) Developmental plasticity and evolution. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:  10.1093/oso/9780195122343.001.0001
    https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780195122343.001.0001 [Google Scholar]
  54. Wynn, T. & Coolidge, F. L.
    (2004) The expert Neanderthal mind. Journal of Human Evolution, 46, 467–487. doi:  10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.01.005
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.01.005 [Google Scholar]
  55. (2007) Did a small but significant enhancement in working-memory capacity power the evolution of modern thinking?InP. Mellars, K. Boyle, O. Bar-Yosef & C. Stringer (Eds.), Rethinking the human revolution: New behavioural and biological perspectives on the origin and dispersal of modern humans (pp.79–90). Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
    [Google Scholar]
  56. (Eds.) (2010) Working memory: Beyond language and symbolism. Current Anthropology, 51, Supplement 1. doi:  10.1086/650526
    https://doi.org/10.1086/650526 [Google Scholar]
  57. (2012) How to think like a Neandertal. New York: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error