to nil," concludes Steven Pinker of Harvard University. Still, evolution's design principle is continuity, so there must have been some neurological structure in the mammalian brain that was adapted to generate the combinatorial systems of vocabulary and grammar, just as the mammalian ear and voice box were adjusted to analyze human voices and generate human speech sounds. In an unusual alliance, the animal communication experts Marc Hauser and Tecumseh Fitch recently joined with the linguist Noam Chomsky to propose that the human capacity for syntax might have evolved out of an animal brain module designed for some other purpose, such as 38
navigation. Their argument is that the essential feature of language is recursion, the ability to embed one phrase inside another in an indefinitely long chain. Recursion may also be a feature of faculties like navigation that require an animal to remember how to get from A to D, with an excursion to B and C if the way is blocked. If the genes that specify the brain's navigation module were accidentally duplicated, the spare set would be free to evolve and perhaps acquire the function of encoding thought into language.
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