Motor theory of language origin: The diversity of languages

Allott, Robin Michael (1994) Motor theory of language origin: The diversity of languages. [Book Chapter]

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The motor theory proposes that the complex semantic, syntactic and phonetic structures of language developed from a pre-existing complex system, more specifically the pre-existing motor system. Language thus emerged as an external physical expression of the neural basis for movement control. Features which made a wide range of skilled actions possible -- a set of elementary motor subprograms together with rules, expressed in neural organisation, for combining subprograms into extended action-sequences -- were transferred to form a parallel set of programs and rules for speech and language. The already established integration of motor control with perceptual organisation led directly to a systematic relation between language and the externally-perceived world. But if language originated in the establishment of new brain connections between the organisation of motor control and perception on the one hand and the neural and physiological systems involved in language on the other, how is it that as far back as can be traced there has been a multiplicity of different languages, with different phonological systems, different lexicons and different grammatical (syntactic and morphological) structures? Because of these differences, de Saussure, Bloomfield and most linguists have concluded, or assumed, that languages must be arbitary constructs, certainly as regards their lexicons, and that there can be no direct relation between the sound-structures of languages and the external world. The paper examines ways in which a reconciliation can be made between the hypothesis of a biological (physiological and neurological) process of language evolution and the observed diversity of languages.

Item Type:Book Chapter
Keywords:language origin, motor control, population genetics, language change
Subjects:Biology > Evolution
Linguistics > Comparative Linguistics
Neuroscience > Behavioral Neuroscience
ID Code:3286
Deposited By: Allott, R M
Deposited On:27 Nov 2003
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55

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