How Did Language Evolve? Some Reflections on the Language Parasite Debate

  • Tzu-wei HungEmail author


The language parasite approach (LPA) refers to the view that language, like a parasite, is an adaptive system that evolves to fit its human hosts. Supported by recent computer simulations, LPA proponents claim that the reason that humans can use languages with ease is not because we have evolved with genetically specified linguistic instincts but because languages have adapted to the preexisting brain structures of humans. This article examines the LPA. It argues that, while the LPA has advantages over its rival, Chomskyan nativism, there are additional factors that may limit linguistic variety that have yet to be identified by its insightful proponents. This article suggests abandoning the search for a decisive cause of language capacity and argues that language evolution is more likely to arise from balancing multiple engineering constraints.


Adaptation Language capacity Language change Language parasite approach The logical problem of language evolution 



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© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of European and American Studies, Academia SinicaTaipeiTaiwan

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