Here’s how the pendulum swings:
- The original question about language origins, back when such speculation was taboo in respectable circles, asked how people had ever come to agree on the meaning of a particular word. The question assumed language was a cultural artifact.
- The question became more respectable when it was turned around to ask how humans ever evolved the ability to use language. Now the assumption was that language was a biological product.
- Then the pendulum swung back a bit, finding the midpoint between the two extremes. Language was said to be both a cultural artifact and biological product. It co-evolved. Like a bee adapting to an orchid and the orchid adapting to the bee, linguistic coevolution imagines the brain adapting to use language and language adapting to fit the brain. For a time it looked as though co-evolution was taking first place (e.g., see Co-Evolution Idea Won Big in Barcelona) in theories of linguistic origins.
- Now with Christiansen and Chater’s book the pendulum returns to its starting point. Language is a cultural product that, over time, has changed to be easily usable by the brain.