than just the particular form this takes in some well-knownlanguages like English and Japanese.How did this widespread misconception of language uni-formity come about? In part, this can be attributed simply to ethnocentrism – most cognitive scientists, linguistsincluded, speak only the familiar European languages, allclose cousins in structure. But in part it can be attributedto misleading advertizing copy issued by linguists them-selves. Unfortunate sociological splits in the ﬁeld have leftgenerative and typological linguists with completely differ-ent views of what is proven science, without shared rulesof argumentation that would allow them to resolve theissue – and in dialogue with cognitive scientists it hasbeen the generativists who have been taken as representingthedominantview.Asaresult,Chomsky’snotionofUniver-sal Grammar (UG) has been mistaken, not for what it is –namely, the programmatic label for whatever it turns outto be that all children bring to learning a language – butfor a set of substantial research ﬁndings about what alllanguages have in common. For the substantial ﬁndingsabout universals across languages one must turn to theﬁeldoflinguistictypology,whichhaslaidbareabewilderingrange of diverse languages, where the generalizations arereally quite hard to extract. Chomsky’s views, ﬁlteredthrough various commentators, have been hugely inﬂuen-tialinthe cognitive sciences,becausetheycombine philoso-phically sophisticated ideas and mathematical approachesto structure with claims about the innate endowment forlanguagethatareimmediatelyrelevant tolearning theorists,cognitive psychologists, and brain scientists. Even thoughpsychologists learned from the linguistic wars of the 1970s(Newmeyer 1986) to steer clear from too close an associ-ation with any speciﬁc linguistic theory, the underlyingidea that all languages share the same structure at someabstract level has remained pervasive, tying in nicely tothe modularity arguments of recent decades (Fodor 1983).It will take a historian of science to unravel the causesof this ongoing presumption of underlying language uni-formity. But a major reason is simply that there is a lack of communication between theorists in the cognitivesciences and those linguists most in the know about lin-guistic diversity. This is partly because of the reluctanceby most descriptive and typological linguists to look upfrom their fascinating particularistic worlds and engage with the larger theoretical issues in the cognitivesciences. Outsiders have instead taken the articulateenvoys from the universalizing generativist camp torepresent the consensus view within linguistics. Butthere are other reasons as well: the relevant literatureis forbiddingly opaque to outsiders, bristling witharcane phonetic symbols and esoteric terminologies.Our ﬁrst goal (sect. 2) in this article, then, is to survey some of the linguistic diversity that has been largely ignored in the cognitive sciences, which shows how differ-ently languages can be structured at every level: phonetic,phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic. Wecritically evaluate (sect. 3) the kind of descriptive general-izations (again, misleadingly called “universals”) that haveemerged from careful cross-linguistic comparisons, and we survey the treacherously different senses of “universal”that have allowed the term to survive a massive accumu-lation of counterevidence. We then turn to three syntactic features that haverecently ﬁgured large in debates about the origin of language: grammatical relations (sect. 4), constituency (sect. 5), and recursion (sect. 6). How universal are thesefeatures? We conclude that there are plenty of languagesthat do not exhibit them in their syntax. What does itmean for an alleged universal to not apply in a givencase? We will consider the idea of “parameters” and theidea of UG as a “toolkit” (Jackendoff 2002). We then turn (sect. 7) to the question of how all thisdiversity is to be accounted for. We suggest, ﬁrst, that lin-guistic diversity patterns just like biological diversity andshould be understood in the same sorts of ways, with func-tional pressures and systems constraints engineering con-stant small changes. Finally (sect. 8), we advance seventheses about the nature of language as a recently evolvedbio-cultural hybrid. We suggest that refocusing on aunique property of our communication system, namely its diversity, is essential to understanding its role inhuman cognition.
2. Language diversity
A review of leading publications suggests that cognitivescientists are not aware of the real range of linguistic diver-sity. In Box 1, for example, is a list of features, taken from aBBS publication on the evolution of language, that alllanguages are supposed to have – “uncontroversial factsabout substantive universals” (Pinker & Bloom 1990; asimilar list is found in Pinker 1994). But none of these“uncontroversial facts” are true of all languages, as notedin the box.
is Professor of Linguistics at theAustralian National University. His more than 120linguistic publications include grammars of Kayardildand Bininj Gun-wok; dictionaries of Kayardild andDalabon; edited books on polysynthesis, linguistic pre-history, and grammar-writing; and the recent
DyingWords: Endangered Languages and What They HaveTo Tell Us
(Wiley Blackwell, 2009). He has carried outintensiveﬁeldworkonanumberoflanguagesofAustraliaand Papua New Guinea. Current research projects focuson the encoding of psychosocial cognition in grammar,songlanguagetraditionsof ArnhemLand, and languagesof South Coast New Guinea. Evans is a fellow of theAustralian Academy of the Humanities.S
is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, and Professor of Com-parative Linguistics at Radboud University, Nijmegen,The Netherlands. He is the author of more than 150publications on language and cognition, including thebooks
(Cambridge University Press [CUP],1983),
Space in Language and Cognition
(CUP,2003). In addition, he has co-edited the following collec-tions:
Language Acquisition and Conceptual Develop- ment
(CUP, 2001) with M. Bowerman;
Grammars of Space
(CUP, 2006) with D. Wilkins;
(MIT, 2006) with P. Jaisson; and
Roots of Soci-ality
(Berg, 2006) with N. Enﬁeld. Levinson has doneextensive ﬁeldwork on languages in India, Australia,Mexico, and Papua New Guinea, and coordinatedresearch on the typology of languages in New Guineaand Australia. He is a fellow of the British Academy and the Academia Europaea.
Evans & Levinson: The myth of language universals430
BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2009) 32:5