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  • Date Submitted: 04/03/2011 04:06 PM
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To be published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (in press) © Cambridge University Press 2009

Below is the unedited, uncorrected final draft of a BBS target article that has been accepted for publication. This preprint has been prepared for potential commentators who wish to nominate themselves for formal commentary invitation. Please DO NOT write a commentary until you receive a formal invitation. If you are invited to submit a commentary, a copyedited, corrected version of this paper will be posted.

The Myth of Language Universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science
Nicholas Evans Department of Linguistics, Research School of Asian and Pacific Studies Australian National University, ACT 0200 Australia nicholas.evans@anu.edu.au Stephen Levinson Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Wundtlaan 1 NL-6525 XD Nijmegen stephen.levinson@mpi.nl http://www.mpi.nl/Members/StephenLevinson
Abstract: Talk of linguistic universals has given cognitive scientists the impression that languages are all built to a common pattern. In fact, there are vanishingly few universals of language in the direct sense that all languages exhibit them. Instead, diversity can be found at almost every level of linguistic organization. This fundamentally changes the object of enquiry from a cognitive science perspective. The article summarizes decades of cross-linguistic work by typologists and descriptive linguists, showing just how few and unprofound the universal characteristics of language are, once we honestly confront the diversity offered to us by the world’s 6-8000 languages. After surveying the various uses of ‘universal’, we illustrate the ways languages vary radically in sound, meaning, and syntactic organization, then examine in more detail the core grammatical machinery of recursion, constituency, and grammatical relations. While there are significant recurrent patterns in organization, these are better explained as stable engineering solutions...

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