Towards an overarching methodology to study the evolution of language: indentifying the units, levels and mechanisms of language evolution.

Nathalie Gontier

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abstract for track 1: philosophy in the field

Towards an overarching methodology to study the evolution of language: indentifying the units, levels and mechanisms of language evolution

Today, the evolution of language is studied from within a variety of non-linguistic disciplines such as evolutionary biology, genetics, neurology, psychology, primatology, artificial intelligence etc. These different research fields all use their own scientific methodologies, such as fMRI studies, genetic sequencing analyses, population dynamics etc, to investigate certain aspects of language evolution. Fruitful as these methodologies and techniques might be, in themselves they cannot provide us with the tools to build adequate and interdisciplinary theories on how language evolved. In this paper, a general and overarching methodology is introduced that allows us to combine the different data provided by the variety of disciplines involved in evolutionary linguistics in order to build general theories on language evolution. This methodology takes the study of life as conducted by biologists and evolutionary epistemologists as exemplar. In biology and evolutionary epistemology, the evolution of life is studied by examining the units that evolve, the levels where these units evolve and the evolutionary mechanisms by which they evolve. The Modern Synthesis for example argues that organisms evolve in the environment by means of natural selection. By analogy, we can also look for the units, levels and mechanisms involved in language evolution. A methodology will be provided that describes how we can examine the current date on language evolution for its status of being either a unit, level or mechanism of language evolution, and how such identification allows us to build a general picture of how language evolved.
It will further be demonstrated how philosophy of science is able to not only reflect in the sciences, it can also provide the sciences with methodologies that enable theory formation.

Gontier, N. 2006 "An epistemological inquiry into the 'what is language' question and the 'what did language evolve for' question." In Cangelosi, A., Smith, A.D.M. & Smith, K. (eds.) The evolution of language: Proceedings of the 6th international conference (Evolang 6). London: World Scientific: 107-115.
Gontier, N. 2006 "Evolutionary epistemology." The internet encyclopaedia of philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/evo-epis.htm.
Gontier, N. 2010 "How to identify the units, levels and mechanisms of language evolution." In Smith et al. (eds) The evolution of language: proceedings of the 8th international conference (EVOLANG8): 176-183.
Gontier, N. 2010 "Evolutionary epistemology as a scientific method." Theory in Biosciences 129: 167-182.
Originele taal-2English
TitelA new practice of philosophy, Taking philosophy beyond disciplinary bounds.
UitgeverijDepartment of philosophy and religion studies, University of Northern Texas, Denton Texas, USA.
StatusPublished - 8 mrt 2011

Publicatie series

NaamA new practice of philosophy, Taking philosophy beyond disciplinary bounds.

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