Projects


Research

The motivating point of departure of my current research is the recognition that the long-desired marriage between theoretical linguistics and biology—“biolinguistics”—has often been rendered more difficult because of certain theoretical choices made by linguists. The degree of specificity assumed by linguists in their analyses, as well as the arguably non-primitive status of the units of analysis they posit, often lead to short-lived or sterile discussions with non-linguists with whom linguists ought to collaborate if they are to shed light on the nature of the human language faculty. As a result, new lines of inquiry leading to better experimental evidence in favor of theoretical proposals remain underdeveloped, the database on which theoretical linguists draw tends to shrink instead of expanding (leading to theoretical impasses or paradoxes), and the feeling of alienation or of diminished relevance of theoretical linguistics grows among practitioners.

The overall objective of my current work is to take concrete steps towards remedying this situation by first highlighting core domains of inquiry where linguistic analysis falls short of its alleged ‘biolinguistic’ goals. In so doing, I hope to generate questions where currently none are asked. The project also aims at developing an alternative theoretical architecture, influenced by work on Complex Systems, that is arguably more in line with assumptions in the life sciences, hence amenable to better experimental testing, and also more restrictive from a purely theoretical point of view. The alternative envisaged requires the adoption of insights already to be found in a variety of theoretical persuasions that up to now have largely been seen as antagonistic. By facilitating integration both within the field of linguistics and among fields, the line of inquiry that I intend to bring to fruition may provide a good example for future attempts at the establishment of an overall biological theory of cognition (sometimes called ‘biocognition’). More importantly, the results achieved in the course of this investigation could provide proponents of biolinguistics with concrete examples to illustrate their claims, thereby enabling them to move beyond the highly abstract and philosophical nature of the research agendas that have appeared in recent years in the context of this emerging field.

The research program just outlined, which I now often refer to as a "biological orientation for linguistic theory" (BOLT, for short) touches on the nature of the "lexicon", of variation ("logodiversity"), and the evolution of the language faculty. This work is made possible by funds from the European Union (Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant PIRG-GA-2009-256413) and from the Spanish ministry of economy and competitiveness (Grant FFI-2010-20634).

 

Outlines of the overall program can be found in here, here and here.


In addition to my own research, I try to provide a forum for biolinguistic ideas through the following:


Oxford Studies in Biolinguistics:


This new series offers a forum for original contributions in biolinguistics, an important new interdisciplinary field concerned with exploring the basic properties of the language faculty, how it matures in the individual, how it is put to use in thought and communication, what brain circuits implement it, and how it emerged in the human species. In asking these questions, biolinguists try to determine which components of the brain are unique to language, as opposed to shared with other cognitive domains such as music and mathematics, and especially those that also seem unique to humans. Contributions are likely to come from the following areas of research: linguistic computation, language development, language evolution, cognitive neuroscience, and genetics. In addition, the series welcomes contributions addressing philosophical and conceptual issues bearing on the nature of and methodologies in biolinguistics.
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