Evolved structure of language shows lineage-specific trends in word-order universals. Nature. 473, 79-82. 2011. Michael Dunn, Simon J. Greenhill,Stephen C. Levinson & Russell D. Gray.

From the editor: “A third way with words: Two prominent theories for how languages evolve suggest that certain grammatical structures should be widely conserved, either because they reflect the way the brain works (Chomsky) or because they are logically connected to other structures (Greenberg). Testing these theories conclusively has been difficult without reliable information on how languages are related. Applying phylogenetic methods to more than a third of the world’s 7,000 extant languages, and focusing on word order, Dunn et al. show that most seemingly universal structures are shared only between languages within the same family. This suggests that cultural evolution, rather than either of the two previous theories, explains the majority of linguistic structure”

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