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date: 21 July 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Language is one of the defining characteristics of homo sapiens. It is deployed in a wide range of adaptive contexts: social interaction, cultural transmission, education, literature, theatre, music, humour and play, love and war. Of this rich array of useful applications, two core adaptive functions make all the rest possible: (i) mental representation; and (ii) the communication of information. This chapter discusses the following: human language as a combinatorial system; three major developmental trends that have jointly fashioned the way languages are now: evolution, ontogenesis, and diachrony; typological diversity and language universals; innateness and language acquisition; language and the brain; the evolution of grammar; and theoretical perspective and grammatical description.

Keywords: human language, mental representation, communication, language universals, language acquisition

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