Language is central to our lives, the cultural tool that arguably sets us apart from other species. Some scientists have argued that language is innate, a type of unique human ‘instinct’ pre-programmed in us from birth. In this book, Vyvyan Evans argues that this received wisdom is, in fact, a myth.
Debunking the notion of a language 'instinct', Evans demonstrates that language is related to other animal forms of communication; that languages exhibit staggering diversity; that we learn our mother tongue drawing on general properties and abilities of the human mind, rather than an inborn ‘universal’ grammar; that language is not autonomous but is closely related to other aspects of our mental lives; and that, ultimately, language and the mind reflect and draw upon the way we interact with others in the world.
Compellingly written and drawing on cutting-edge research, The Language Myth sets out a forceful alternative to the received wisdom, showing how language and the mind really work.
Book review in The New Scientist 18 Oct 2014
Book review in the Times Higher Education 13 Nov 2014
Published September 2014 by Cambridge University Press. Also published in Turkish, Portuguese and Arabic.
Real Talk: There is no language instinct. Essay published in Aeon, Dec. 2014.
The Language Paradox. Review of book by Berwick and Chomsky, published in New Scientist, Feb. 2016.
Table of Contents
1. Language and mind rethought
2. Is human language unrelated to animal communication
3. Are there language universals?
4. Is language innate?
5. Is language a distinct module in the mind?
6. Is there a universal Mentalese?
7. Is thought independent of language?
8. Language and mind regained
“Is the way we think about language on the cusp of a revolution? After reading The Language Myth, it certainly looks as if a major shift is in progress, one that will open people's minds to liberating new ways of thinking about language.”
The New Scientist
"Voluminous and, on the whole, completely persuasive."
"The Language Myth is a wide-ranging polemical dismissal of the received wisdom of many linguists. It’s worth reading also as a classic case study of an orthodoxy undergoing what Thomas Kuhn called a paradigm shift."
World Wide Words
"...a comprehensive presentation of the case that human verbal communication emerges from use...The general reader can read this book from cover to cover and learn a great deal about language that challenges the established traditions. Equally, the more experienced reader will benefit from the alternative perspective it offers, and from the comprehensive reference lists to support the arguments that Evans makes."
Times Higher Education
‘A much-needed, comprehensive critique of universal grammar. Vyvyan Evans builds a compelling case that will be difficult to refute.’
David Crystal, author of The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language, 3rd Edition.
‘Evans’ rebuttal of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar from the perspective of Cognitive Linguistics provides an excellent antidote to popular textbooks where it is assumed that the Chomskyan approach to linguistic theory (in one avatar or another) has somehow been vindicated once and for all.’
Michael Fortescue, Professor Emeritus, University of Copenhagen
‘The Language Myth builds a compelling case that there is no innate Universal Grammar. Evans's work is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the origin, nature, and use of human language.’
Daniel L. Everett, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Bentley University