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This book explores issues at the core of modern linguistics and cognitive science. Why are all languages similar in some ways and in others utterly different? Why do languages change and change variably? How did the human capacity for language evolve, and how far did it do so as an innate ability? Simon Kirby looks at these questions from a broad perspective, arguing that they can (indeed must) be studied together. The author begins by examining how far the universal properties of language may be explained by examining the way it is used, and how far by the way it is structured. He then considers what insights may be gained by combining functional and formal approaches. In doing so he develops a way of treating language as an adaptive system, in which its communicative and formal roles are both crucial and complementary. In order to test the effectiveness of competing theories and explanations, Simon Kirby develops computational models to show what universals emerge given a particular theory of language use or acquisition. He presents here both the methodology and the results. Function, Selection, and Innateness is important for its argument, its methodology, and its conclusions.
It is a powerful demonstration of the value of looking at language as an adaptive system and goes to the heart of current debates on the evolution and nature of language.