Evolution of Universal Grammar

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Science  05 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5501, pp. 114-118
DOI: 10.1126/science.291.5501.114

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Universal grammar specifies the mechanism of language acquisition. It determines the range of grammatical hypothesis that children entertain during language learning and the procedure they use for evaluating input sentences. How universal grammar arose is a major challenge for evolutionary biology. We present a mathematical framework for the evolutionary dynamics of grammar learning. The central result is a coherence threshold, which specifies the condition for a universal grammar to induce coherent communication within a population. We study selection of grammars within the same universal grammar and competition between different universal grammars. We calculate the condition under which natural selection favors the emergence of rule-based, generative grammars that underlie complex language.

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