The Biological Nature of Human Language


  • Anna Maria Di Sciullo
  • Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini
  • Kenneth Wexler
  • Robert C. Berwick
  • Cedric Boeckx
  • Lyle Jenkins
  • Juan Uriagereka
  • Karin Stromswold
  • Lisa Lai-Shen Cheng
  • Heidi Harley
  • Andrew Wedel
  • James McGilvray
  • Elly van Gelderen
  • Thomas G. Bever


Biolinguistics aims to shed light on the specifically biological nature of human language, focusing on five foundational questions: (1) What are the properties of the language phenotype? (2) How does language ability grow and mature in individuals? (3) How is language put to use? (4) How is language implemented in the brain? (5) What evolutionary processes led to the emergence of language? These foundational questions are used here to frame a discussion of important issues in the study of language, exploring whether our linguistic capacity is the result of direct selective pressure or due to developmental or biophysical constraints, and assessing whether the neural/computational components entering into language are unique to human language or shared with other cognitive systems, leading to a discussion of advances in theoretical linguistics, psycholinguistics, comparative animal behavior and psychology, genetics/genomics, disciplines that can now place these longstanding questions in a new light, while raising challenges for future research.