Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist and co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, once said he was confused about language because humans didn’t need it. People, he said, could get by with a brain the size of an ape. So why do we have it?
How and why humans acquired a distinctive language, unlike that of any other species, is a “special puzzle,” as MIT computer scientist Robert Berwick calls it. Berwick and MIT linguist Noam Chomsky explore this puzzle in their new book, Why Only Us: Language and Evolution, published this month by the MIT Press. The book looks at what language is, how and where it arose, and what purpose it may have played — why is it a useful trait?
Since the MIT faculty established their Open Access Policy in March 2009 they have made thousands of research papers freely available to the world via DSpace@MIT. To highlight that research, we’re offering a series of posts that link news stories about scholars’ work to their open access papers in DSpace.