Behavioral and Brain Sciences 32 (5):429-448 (2009)

Abstract
Talk of linguistic universals has given cognitive scientists the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern. In fact, there are vanishingly few universals of language in the direct sense that all languages exhibit them. Instead, diversity can be found at almost every level of linguistic organization. This fundamentally changes the object of enquiry from a cognitive science perspective. This target article summarizes decades of cross-linguistic work by typologists and descriptive linguists, showing just how few and unprofound the universal characteristics of language are, once we honestly confront the diversity offered to us by the world's 6,000 to 8,000 languages. After surveying the various uses of we illustrate the ways languages vary radically in sound, meaning, and syntactic organization, and then we examine in more detail the core grammatical machinery of recursion, constituency, and grammatical relations. Although there are significant recurrent patterns in organization, these are better explained as stable engineering solutions satisfying multiple design constraints, reflecting both cultural-historical factors and the constraints of human cognition.
Keywords Chomsky   coevolution   constituency   culture   dependency   evolutionary theory   Greenberg   linguistic diversity   linguistic typology   recursion   universal grammar
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DOI 10.1017/S0140525X0999094X
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Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.Noam Chomsky - 1965 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.
The Language of Thought.Jerry A. Fodor - 1975 - Harvard University Press.
Philosophical Investigations.Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein - 1953 - New York, NY, USA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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