Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

More Than Nature Needs: Language, Mind, and Evolution

By: Derek Bickerton(Author)

280 pages, illustrations

Harvard University Press

Hardback | Jan 2014 | #211405 | ISBN-13: 9780674724907
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £25.95 $33/€29 approx

About this book

The human mind is an unlikely evolutionary adaptation. How did humans acquire cognitive capacities far more powerful than anything a hunting-and-gathering primate needed to survive? Alfred Russel Wallace, co-founder with Darwin of evolutionary theory, saw humans as "divine exceptions" to natural selection. Darwin thought use of language might have shaped our sophisticated brains, but his hypothesis remained an intriguing guess – until now. Combining state-of-the-art research with forty years of writing and thinking about language evolution, Derek Bickerton convincingly resolves a crucial problem that both biology and the cognitive sciences have hitherto ignored or evaded.

What evolved first was neither language nor intelligence – merely normal animal communication plus displacement. That was enough to break restrictions on both thought and communication that bound all other animals. The brain self-organized to store and automatically process its new input, words. But words, which are inextricably linked to the concepts they represent, had to be accessible to consciousness. The inevitable consequence was a cognitive engine able to voluntarily merge both thoughts and words into meaningful combinations. Only in a third phase could language emerge, as humans began to tinker with a medium that, when used for communication, was adequate for speakers but suboptimal for hearers.

Starting from humankind's remotest past, "More than Nature Needs" transcends nativist thesis and empiricist antithesis by presenting a revolutionary synthesis – one that instead of merely repeating "nature and nurture" cliches shows specifically and in a principled manner how and why the synthesis came about.

"More than Nature Needs is terrific, provocative, controversial, up-to-date, and written with a refreshing take-no-prisoners attitude. Theories of the evolution of language are notoriously hard to test, but Bickerton's, which embeds a serious critique of contemporary linguistics, is well worthy of serious consideration. A top-notch effort by a leader in the field, in the middle of his ninth decade."
– Gary Marcus, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Language and Music at New York University

 "Bickerton is the grand seigneur of the topic of language evolution among the linguists. He writes so bloody well that one turns yellow with envy. He is a mastermind of the field, period."
– Eörs Szathmáry, Professor of Biology in the Department of Plant Taxonomy & Ecology, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest


1. Wallace’s Problem
2. Generative Theory
3. The "Specialness" of Humans
4. From Animal Communication to Protolanguage
5. Universal Grammar
6. Variation and Change
7. Language "Acquisition"
8. Creolization
9. Homo Sapiens Loquens


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Derek Bickerton is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii.

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