"Can Homo erectus put an end to Chomsky’s mechanistic metaphysics?" Review of Everett's *How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention* [Book Review]

Metascience 27 (2):297-300 (2018)
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Abstract
This should be a watershed book as it effectively demolishes the unwarranted assumptions that support the work of the major linguist of our times, Noam Chomsky. Instead of regarding language as predominantly computation and only secondarily as communication, as Chomsky insists, Daniel Everett offers convincing evidence that language’s main function is to communicate shared meanings within a cultural community, which allows for social learning and cultural creativity. To demonstrate this, Everett attempts to trace the origin of symbol use, which he sees as the foundation of human language, and he finds it in the distant prehistoric past amongst the far-travelled species we designate as Homo erectus. In linguistic terminology, Everett defends the constitutive view of language over the designative, preferred by cognitive scientists. After years of refusing to discuss the origin of language, Chomsky in 2002 agreed with the metaphysical speculation that it must have begun as a lucky neural mutation in a single individual. Everett presents a very strong case for slow cultural invention among many individuals as the impetus for language, but his certainty about symbol use among H. erectus is left on much less solid ground.
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First archival date: 2018-04-13
Latest version: 2 (2018-06-30)
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The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms: Vol. 1. Language.Heath, P. L.; Cassirer, Ernst; Manheim, Ralph & Hendel, C. W.

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2018-04-09

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