Language evolution and complexity considerations: The no half-Merge fallacy
Pedro Tiago Martins, Cedric Boeckx
March 2019

Recently, prominent theoretical linguists have argued for an explicit evolutionary scenario for language on the basis of computational properties of the language faculty. Specifically, the simplicity of a minimal(ist) formulation of the operation Merge, which allows humans to recursively compute hierarchical relations in language, has been used to promote a sudden emergence, single-mutant scenario. A major argument for this view is that Merge is either fully present or fully absent: one cannot have half-Merge. From there, proponents of this view conclude that the emergence of the Merge phenotype had to be sudden, drawing a parallelism between the formal complexity of the operation at the computational level and the number of evolutionary steps it must imply. Here we examine this argument, and show that it rests on tenets that do not hold, and therefore cannot be used as justification for a single-mutant theory of language evolution.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004509
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: submitted
keywords: evolution of language, merge, genotype-phenotype, complexity, syntax
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