Syntactic Theory and the Evolution of Syntax


  • Brady Clark


Contemporary work on the evolution of syntax can be roughly divided into two perspectives. The incremental view claims that the evolution of syntax involved multiple stages between the non-combinatorial communication system of our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and modern human syntax. The saltational view claims that syntax was the result of a single evolutionary development. What is the relationship between syntactic theory and these two perspectives? Jackendoff (2010) argues that “[y]our theory of language evolution depends on your theory of language”. For example, he claims that most work within the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995) is forced to the saltational view. In this paper it is argued that there is not a dependency relation between theories of syntax and theories of syntactic evolution. The parallel architecture (Jackendoff 2002) is consistent with a saltational theory of syntactic evolution. The architecture assumed in most minimalist work is compatible with an incremental theory.