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
Book review in Babel Magazine, Aug 2015
Book review in Language (by Adele Goldberg), 2015
Book review in Studies in Language, 1 Jan 2016
Book review in Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 7 Sept 2016
Published September 2014 by Cambridge University Press. Also published in Turkish, Japanese, Portuguese and Arabic.
Full book details at Cambridge University Press, including 'look inside' features.
Real Talk: There is no language instinct. Essay precis of The Language Myth published in Aeon, Dec. 2014.
The Language Paradox. My 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
The Language Journal Controversy: Censorship at the heart of an academic discipline
In 2015 I was approached by the Book Review Editor of Language, the flagship academic journal of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA).
The Review Editor, Helen Goodluck, proposed a "new" type of review, for The Language Myth, to include a number of commentary articles, and a response by myself.
However, subsequently, Helen Goodluck, and Language, declined to publish my response article to the reviews, under pressure from the Chomskyan Generative Grammar community, notably Chomskyan-affiliated academic linguistics departments at MIT and Maryland College Park (among others).
In response, I sent a letter of objection, which I also addressed to the international community of academic linguists. This letter is available here.
My response article, blackballed and censored by Language is available here.
The Language Myth Wars
It is fair to say that when The Language Myth was first published in 2014 it upset colleagues in the Chomskyan Generative Grammar Community.
A hostile review of the book was published by a leading Chomskyan adherent in the journal Lingua in 2015, here.
My response (with my colleague Christina Behme), also published in Lingua, is here.
I have also published a series of posts in my Psychology Today blog addressing and rebutting the hysteria and misinformation that has grown up around the book:
Is Language an Instinct. December 2014
Are All Languages English-Like? December 2014
The Shape-Shifting Malleability of Universals in Universal Grammar, January 2015
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, April 2015
Joining the Dodo, July 2015
What do Brexit and Universal Grammar have in Common? September 2016
“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