In Evolutionary Syntax, Ljiljana Progovac proposes a gradualist, adaptationist approach to the evolution of syntax, subject to natural selection. She provides a specific framework for its study, combining the fields of evolutionary biology, theoretical syntax, typology, neuroscience, and genetics. The author pursues an internal reconstruction of the stages of grammar based on the syntactic theory associated with Chomskyan Minimalism and arrives at specific, testable hypotheses, which are then corroborated by an abundance of theoretically analysed 'living fossils' drawn from a variety of languages. Her approach demonstrates that these fossil structures do not just coexist alongside more modern structures, but are in fact built into the very foundation of more complex structures, leading to quirks and complexities that are suggestive of a gradualist evolutionary scenario. By reconstructing a particular path along which syntax evolved, Evolutionary Syntax sheds light on the crucial properties of language design itself, as well as on the major parameters of crosslinguistic variation. As a result, this reconstruction can be meaningfully correlated with both the hominin timeline and the ever-growing body of genetic evidence that is available.
2: The small (clause) beginnings
3: The intransitive two-word stage: Absolutives, unaccusatives, and middles as precursors to transitivity
4: Parataxis and coordination as precursors to hierarchy: Evolving recursive grammars
5: Islandhood (subjacency) as an epiphenomenon of evolutionary tinkering
6: Exocentric VN compounds: The best fossils
7: The plausibility of natural selection for syntax
Appendix: Testing Grounds: Neuroimaging
Ljiljana Progovac is Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Linguistics Program at Wayne State University in Detroit. She received her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Novi Sad, Serbia, and her Ph.D. degree in linguistics from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include syntax, Slavic syntax, and the evolution of syntax. She is the author of Negative and Positive Polarity (CUP, 1994) and A Syntax of Serbian (Slavica, 2005), as well as multiple journal articles and conference papers on language evolution, and is co-editor of The Syntax of Nonsententials (Benjamins, 2006).
"Evolutionary Syntax is a major contribution to the literature. It offers a novel gradualist account of the evolution of syntax, grounded in a thorough consideration of a range of linguistic phenomena. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the origin and evolution of the human capacity for language."
– Brady Clark, Northwestern University
"This is the book that brings Chomsky and Darwin together, arguing that the basic tenets of the minimalist program and its hierarchic sentence structure support a gradualist approach to the evolution of language motivated by natural selection. A must read for linguists of diverse persuasions, demonstrating to theoretical syntacticians the relevance of evolution to the architecture of grammar, while suggesting to students of the evolution of language that valuable insights may be on offer from the minimalist approach. Grammarians will also find novel analyses of "syntactic fossils" such as compounds, root small clauses, and thetic statements in this well-written book that is hard to put down."
– David Gil, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology