The Language Lottery: Toward a Biology of Grammar

One of life's mysteries is how all normal children come to understand and speak their native language as quickly, easily, and spontaneously as they routinely do. The Language Lottery theorizes that linguistic competence is innate, that the mystery is akin to the budding and unfolding of a flower, the natural consequence of a genetically encoded program. It develops the concept that language structure is internally prescribed from the insights of generative grammar, which largely grew out of the work of Noam Chomsky. A major feature of the book is that the author explains in some depth for readers without training in linguistics what generative grammar is all about, covering the basic features of the theory and outlining the current open questions at the vanguard of research. Since the principles of generative grammar underlie the particular structure that may occur in any natural, human language, a theory based on them can apply equally to the acquisition of Japanese, English, Arabic, or any other tongue a child might draw in the language lottery. From this central theoretical base, the book ranges far afield in demonstrating the genetic nature of language development. Among the topics discussed are the results of experiments in animal communication, the genetically determined maturation of human cognition and perception, and the brain as the seat of language structure. The Language Lottery covers all the major dimensions of language: syntax, logical form, the lexicon, word meaning, the sound of speech and phonological features, and continuous language processing. Child grammars and the historical evolution of language are also taken up.