Nature article in the news

Daniel Everett dan at
Thu Apr 14 19:20:38 UTC 2011

Thanks for this, Shannon. Fascinating stuff.

My book-length study on culture and language (Cognitive Fire: Language as a Cultural Tool)  will be out from Random House in early 2012.  The folks in NZ are doing some interesting research. Michael Corballis's new book, The Recursive Mind: The Origins of Human Language, Thought, and Civilization ( is almost out and looks to be a very worthwhile read.


On Apr 14, 2011, at 3:12 PM, s.t. bischoff wrote:

> Hi all,
> Here is an LA Times story that may be of interest...haven't had a chance to
> track down the original Nature article yet...would be curious to hear
> reactions.
> Culture trumps biology in language development, study argues Researchers
> construct evolutionary trees for four linguistic groups and conclude that
> cultures, not innate preferences, drive the language rules humans create –
> contrary to the findings of noted linguists Noam Chomsky and Joseph
> Greenberg.
> Are the rules of language encoded in our
> genes<>,
> or are they primarily shaped by the speaker's cultural context?
> Leading linguistic thinkers have argued that our brains are hard-wired for
> languages to follow certain sets of rules. But a team of scientists is
> challenging that premise in a study published online Wednesday in the
> journal Nature.
> The team used biological tools to construct evolutionary trees for four
> language families and found that each of the families followed its own
> idiosyncratic structural rules, a sign that humans' language choices are
> driven by culture rather than innate preferences.
> The authors say their findings run contrary to the idea of Noam
> Chomsky<>'s
> generative grammar, which says the brain has hard and fast ordering rules
> for language. They also contradict the "universal rules" of Joseph H.
> Greenberg, who said languages tended to choose certain patterns over others.
> Cheers,
> Shannon

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