Books are a time for making yourself clear, so I have to shake my head a bit as I find myself wondering about an author’s fundamentals. For instance, Christiansen and Chater never say so directly, and I can hardly believe it, but they seem to go along with the Chomskyan view that form comes before meaning. Traditional scholars assumed that the form of a sentence reflected the speaker’s meaning and rhetorical touches. Then Chomsky came along and imagined a sentence being generated by phonological rules, followed by syntactical rules, followed by semantic rules. Meaning, in this theory, brings up the rear. This view leads to some deep problems such as occurs in the following sentences:
(1) Bob shocked me by slapping himself hard on the cheek.
(2) Bob shocked me by slapping his wife hard on the cheek.
As the generativists see it, sentence (1) takes much more computational power than sentence (2). The difficultyis that in sentence (1) Bob and himself mean the same thing. When generating a normal sentence, e.g., #(2), you produce a tree that contains noun1 (Bob), noun2 (me), noun3 (his wife), and noun4 (cheek). But in sentence (1) noun1 and noun3 refer to the same person. So how does the generator know where to put the name and where to put the reflexive pronoun? You might make it as a rule that the reflexive pronoun always comes second, but then how do we explain the sentence Slapping himself hard on the cheek, Bob shocked me? The solution that generativists developed is to “bind” the shared-meaning nouns together and then develop a few principles and exemptions that explain the nouns and pronouns in most sentences.
As I say, this matter is really only a challenge if you need to generate the syntactic structure before you give any thought to meaning. The problem goes away if you are considering meaning before syntax. I happen to have published a paper (here) on this matter last March and wrote a blog post (here) on it as well. So I was sorry to find Christiansen and Chater suffering through the agonies of explaining how reflexive nouns deal with binding problems. They have a somewhat different explanation from the Chomskyites, but they still talk about binding.
Why do the authors feel a need to explain this sort of thing? They write: “Our framework builds on a construction-based approach to language in which an utterance is viewed as consisting of a set of … learned pairings between form and meaning, … multiword sequences, … partially filled lexical patterns, … and more abstract linguistic schemas” [p. 4]. So they don’t exactly say with Chomsky that meaning follows form, but neither do they say it precedes it. The two go together.
A bit later they add, “Language acquisition fundamentally involves learning how to process utterances made up of multiple constructions.”  Umm, wait a second. Shouldn’t the first part of language acquisition involve learning the “pairings” of a particular language? If we assume that the pairings are there from the beginning, we will be like chemists developing a theory in which molecules rather than atoms are the elements. We have to begin with a theory of how pairings are made. And which part of the pair comes first, form or meaning?
When the authors discuss the binding issue we see what happens if you can only think about H2O and never just H and O; simple matters look more complicated than they need be. In this case, the authors appear to take as elemental a pairing of form with a set of abstract linguistic schemas. As they put it, “The principles of binding capture patterns of, among other things, reflexive pronouns … and accusative pronouns … which appear, at first sight, to defy functional explanation.”  A bit later they mention how pragmatic constraints can become “’fossilized’ in syntax, leading to some of the complex patterns described by binding theory.”  So it sounds pretty complicated, and the authors never claim to have simplified the matter, only to have made “substantial in-roads into the explanation of key binding phenomena.” 
My complaint is not with the notion of pairings. In fact, I think it is a fine idea, a useful idea. It is simply, by definition, not an elementary idea. The authors are not fools, so there must be some big reason why they would begin with the molecules of their story. I suspect it is the persistent mystery of language, the same puzzle that has bothered the world since Aristotle. He said language is sound plus meaning, and people agreed without ever being sure what meaning is. So philologists, writers, and linguists have generally taken meaning as a given and started their analysis at the next level.
On this blog, meaning is a process, not a thing. It is what you get when you direct attention somewhere. Jack can say to Jill, “See that?” and Jill turns to look where Jack is indicating. “Wow,” she says. The meaning is not in the words, nor even in whatever the look at, but in their joint acts of attention. The meaning process is whatever went on in their heads while they were attending to wherever Jack directed Jill's eyes. So on this blog we start with the discovery of meaning by directing attention.
There is plenty to admire in C&C's book. I think they are right in proposing that language originated, is acquired, and changes all through a process of usage. I also am persuaded that usage is constrained by a “now or never” waterfall in which words and phrases must be grabbed at once or they become irretrievably lost. I find convincing their insistence that the only linguistic things that can be genetically fixed in the human brain are functional processes, not arbitrary rules of grammar. But they don’t have the whole story, because they haven’t solved the nature of meaning, let alone how it works with form. They can accept this blog's solution, or come up with a better one, but they cannot pretend the problem of meaning is not there.