This book considers the evolution of the grammatical structure of words in
the more general contexts of human evolution and the origins of language.
The consensus in many fields is that language is well designed for its
purpose, and became so either through natural selection or by virtue of
non-biological constraints on how language must be structured. Andrew
Carstairs-McCarthy argues that in certain crucial respects language is not
optimally designed. This can be seen, he suggests, in the existence of not
one but two kinds of grammatical organization - syntax and morphology - and
in the morphological and morpho-phonological complexity which leads to
numerous departures from the one-form-one-meaning principle.
Having discussed the issue of good and bad design in a wider biological
context, the author shows that conventional explanations for the nature of
morphology do not work. Its poor design features arose, he argues, from two
characteristics present when the ancestors of modern humans had a
vocabulary but no grammar. One of these was a synonymy-avoidance
expectation, while the other was an articulatory and phonological apparatus
that encouraged the development of new synonyms. Morphology developed in
response to these conflicting pressures.
In this stimulating and carefully argued account Professor McCarthy offers
a powerful challenge to conventional views of the relationship between
syntax and morphology, to the adaptationist view of language evolution, and
to the notion that language in some way reflects 'laws of form'. This
fundamental contribution to understanding the nature and evolution of
language will be of wide interest to linguists of all theoretical
persuasions as well as to scholars in cognitive science and anthropology.