Volume 20 Thirty-Five Years of CRIL
Graduate Working Papers

The Evolution of Evolutionary Linguistics

Jeff R. Stebbins
University of Colorado Boulder


  • evolutionary linguistics

How to Cite

Stebbins, J. R. (2007). The Evolution of Evolutionary Linguistics. Colorado Research in Linguistics, 20. https://doi.org/10.25810/vefc-nw72


For more than a century after Darwin’s Origin of Species, linguists said little about the origins of human speech. In the past 30 years, however, some linguists and evolutionary biologists have proposed descriptions of the roles of gestures, the vocal apparatus, cognition, syntax, and social interaction in the emergence of language. This paper summarizes some of their claims, especially those that assume the certainty of Neo-Darwinian evolution. Neo-Darwinism, though, has various critics disputing its claims to be settled fact. After brief consideration of some of those criticisms, the paper will encourage linguists to exercise more caution in their dependence upon Neo-Darwinian theory. Finally, several other fields of science will be mentioned as possible candidates for offering linguists an increasing understanding of the emergence of speech.