Journal of Linguistics

Review Article

Linguists play catchup with evolution

a1 University of Hawaii


Donald Loritz, How the brain evolved language. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. 227.

Lyle Jenkins, Biolinguistics : exploring the biology of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xiii+264.

In the course of reviewing recent books on the evolution of language and communication (Dunbar 1996, Hauser 1996, Deacon 1997) I have had occasion to note that relatively few writers on these topics know much about linguistics, and to wish that more of them did. I should have remembered the old adage that one shouldn't wish for things - one might get them.

For more than a century, linguists honored the Linguistic Society of Paris's ban on all discussion of language evolution; other disciplines went ahead with it regardless. Now that the centrality of language evolution to any study of our species is becoming apparent, linguists are desperately trying to play catchup, and the two volumes reviewed here both appeared in the last couple of years. Both authors are linguists, albeit hyphenated ones. Donald Loritz teaches computational linguistics at Georgetown University; his doctorate was in psycholinguistics. Lyle Jenkins works in the Biolinguistics Institute in Cambridge, MA; however, his doctorate was in unhyphenated linguistics. It would be difficult to find two authors whose ideas were more diametrically opposed.

(Received June 1 2001)

c1 Department of Linguistics, University of Hawaii, 1890 East-West Road, Moore Hall 569, Honolulu, HI 96822, U.S.A. E-mail: