This article is a review of two contrastive views on the co-evolution of language and the brain – The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker (1994) and The Symbolic Species by Terrence Deacon (1997). As language is a trait unique to mankind it can not be equated with nonlinguistic communication – human or nonhuman. This points to a special human brain architecture. Pinker’s claim is that certain areas on the left side of the brain constitute a language organ and that language acquisition is instinctual. To Deacon, however, those areas are non-language-specific computational centers. Moreover, they are parts in a larger symbolic computational chain controlled by regions in the frontal parts of the brain. To Deacon, a symbolic learning algorithm drives language acquisition. The increase in size of the human brain in relation to the body may be due to a “cognitive arms race”. Both Pinker and Deacon agree on the evolutionary advantage of the ability to establish and maintain social alliances and contracts and to outsmart social cheaters but they disagree on what this cheating involves. Pinker defines cheaters as social parasites, while Deacon defines them adulterers.
Grazer Linguistische Studien (gls), 2001, Issue 55, p. 1-20