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Linguistics Vanguard

A Multimodal Journal for the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: Bergs, Alexander / Cohn, Abigail C. / Good, Jeff

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What we talk about when we talk about biolinguistics

Pedro Tiago Martins / Cedric Boeckx
  • Section of General Linguistics, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
  • ICREA, Barcelona, Spain
  • UB Institute for Complex Systems, Barcelona Spain
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Published Online: 2016-08-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2016-0007


The study of the biological foundations of language is sometimes called biolinguistics. This particular term finds its historical origins in the 1950s, and for various reasons it has also gained considerable traction in recent years. While its increasing use apparently signals an equally increasing interest in biology, apart from a few exceptions not much is added to and beyond standard linguistic theorizing by those linguists who use it, resulting in a complex and confusing literature. This state of affairs has led, on the one hand, to the perpetuation of proposals that are hard to relate to the biological literature and, on the other, to ill-placed criticism on the progress and even the very legitimacy of a biologically-informed study of language. By reviewing different ways in which research under the biolinguistics label has been carried out, as well as some common criticisms, we hope to dispel some misconceptions about what constitutes a biolinguistic approach, as well as point out what we contend is real progress in the study of the biological bases and evolution of the human language faculty, to which the term is better and rightly applied.

Keywords: biolinguistics; generative grammar; interdisciplinarity; language faculty


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About the article

Received: 2016-04-05

Accepted: 2016-07-26

Published Online: 2016-08-27

Published in Print: 2016-12-01

Preparation of this work was supported by funds from the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (grants FFI2013-43823-P and FFI2014-61888-EXP), as well as funds from a Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant from the European Union (PIRG-GA-2009-256413), research funds from the Fundació Bosch i Gimpera, and from the Generalitat de Catalunya (2014-SGR-200).

Citation Information: Linguistics Vanguard, Volume 2, Issue 1, 20160007, ISSN (Online) 2199-174X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2016-0007.

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