We are happy to announce a forthcoming contribution to our series: Reflections on Biolinguistics, by Cedric Boeckx.
Biolinguistics provides a great example of the promises and the challenges of interdisciplinarity. As a field, it has its roots in the cognitive revolution and in particular in the early work of Lenneberg and Chomsky, which focused on “language” as part of our biological endownment. But this book argues that biolinguistics can and should be much more than just pointing towards biology. The past decades have seen methodological innovations and interdisciplinary rapprochements that make it possible to be more concrete about the “bio” part. Drawing on a wide range of cross-disciplinary work, Cedric Boeckx argues there has never been a better time to do biolinguistics.
About the author
Cedric Boeckx is Research Professor at the Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies (ICREA), a member of the Universitat de Barcelona Institute for Complex Systems, and a member of the section of General Linguistics at the Universitat de Barcelona. Before joining ICREA, he was Associate Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University. He is the author of numerous books, including Islands and Chains (2003), Linguistic Minimalism (2006), Bare Syntax (2008), Language in Cognition (2009), Syntactic Islands (2012), Elementary Syntactic Structures (2014), and the editor of numerous volumes. He is also the founding co-editor of the Open Access journal Biolinguistics, and the founding editor of the Oxford University Press monograph series Oxford Studies in Biolinguistics.
What causes a language to be the way it is? Some features are universal, some are inherited, others are borrowed, and yet others are internally innovated. But no matter where a bit of language is from, it will only exist if it has been diffused and kept in circulation through social interaction in the history of a community. This book makes the case that a proper understanding of the ontology of language systems has to be grounded in the causal mechanisms by which linguistic items are socially transmitted, in communicative contexts. A biased transmission model provides a basis for understanding why certain things and not others are likely to develop, spread, and stick in languages.
Because bits of language are always parts of systems, we also need to show how it is that items of knowledge and behavior become structured wholes. The book argues that to achieve this, we need to see how causal processes apply in multiple frames or ‘time scales’ simultaneously, and we need to understand and address each and all of these frames in our work on language. This forces us to confront implications that are not always comfortable: for example, that ‘a language’ is not a real thing but a convenient fiction, that language-internal and language-external processes have a lot in common, and that tree diagrams are poor conceptual tools for understanding the history of languages. By exploring avenues for clear solutions to these problems, this book suggests a conceptual framework for ultimately explaining, in causal terms, what languages are like and why they are like that.
About the author
N. J. Enfield is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney, and a senior staff scientist at the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen. He has carried out extensive field work in mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos, working on language, culture, cognition, and social interaction. His books include Ethnosyntax (OUP 2002), Linguistic Epidemiology (Routledge 2003), A Grammar of Lao (Mouton de Gruyter 2007), The Anatomy of Meaning (CUP 2009), Dynamics of Human Diversity (Pacific Linguistics 2011), Relationship Thinking (OUP 2013), The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology (with P Kockelman and J Sidnell, 2014), Languages of Mainland Southeast Asia (with B Comrie, Mouton 2015) and The Utility of Meaning (OUP 2015). He has published over 100 academic articles and reviews.
About the series
Conceptual Foundations of Language Science publishes short and accessible books on foundational issues in linguistics. The series provides a venue for conceptual arguments and explorations that do not require the traditional book-length treatment, yet that demand more space than a typical journal article allows. CFLS is one of about twelve series published by the innovative open access publisher Language Science Press. Books published by Language Science Press are peer-reviewed, ensuring high scholarly standards; and they are open access, ensuring universal availability.