Review of Bio-Linguistics
Givón, T. (2002) Bio-Linguistics: The Santa Barbara
Lectures. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-139.html
Marina Rusakova, Saint-Petersburg State University
''Bio-linguistics'' by Talmy Givón is a fundamental
multidisciplinary enterprise, which is a research monograph and a
handbook at the same time. The book consists of a preface, ten
chapters and an epilogue. All components of the book contribute to the
take part in setting the problem, proving and illumining the main
statement of ''Bio- linguistics'': language is a platform for and at
the same time the result of processing of adaptive mechanisms.
''Bio-linguistics'' is an extremely dense text that to a large extent
generalizes previous studies by Givón himself (such as first of all
Givón 1979a, 1979b, 1984, 1990, 1995) as well as substantial number
of studies from various domains. Many of the references given
explicitly or implicitly by Givón are crucial for an adequate
understanding of his text. However, the very amount of previous
studies Givón uses as material for the development of new ideas and
generalizations forces me to give references in the body of this
review in some exceptional cases only.
In the preface, a broad philosophical, scholarly and linguistic
foundation is established. The philosophical - methodological base of
Givón's linguistics is opposite to the perspectives rooted in
idealistic ancient philosophical predilections. The main prelinguistic
perspective is elimination of ''a rigid separation between biology and
''Bio-linguistics'' is devoted to the memory of Joseph Greenberg, whom
T. Givón consideres to be the source of his inspiration. The very
dedication of Givón's book indicates at the author's interpretation
of Greenberg's ''approach to the balance between universality and
diversity'' [xviii] as an adaptively-oriented.
- In chapter I (''Language as a biological adaptation'') a functional-
adaptive approach to language is proclaimed and a general theoretical
base for the corresponding system of views and for linguistic research
program is established.
- Givón finds the starting point for bio-linguistic ideas in biology
(''mother-discipline of all human sciences''). By several
representative quotations Givón persuades a reader that ever since
Aristotle's time a ''common sense'' (which is in a certain way
Givón's byword) functionalism in biology is ''taken for granted like
mother's milk'' .
It is also in chapter I that the reader encounters for the first time
the main adversaries of Givón, namely those linguists adopting a
It is not surprising, that Givón, one of the leaders of functional
ideology in linguistics, views the nature of language, its origin and
development based on an assumption that the two taken for granted
''adaptive functions of human language are the representation and
communication of information'' .
The main concepts of the book are introduced in the first chapter,
with a succinctness and clearness of thought typical of Givón. The
cognitive representation system and the communicative codes are the
two component parts of coded human communication. The first involves
the conceptual lexicon as well as propositional information and
multi-propositional discourse and the second, two coding instruments:
the peripheral sensory-motor codes and the grammatical code.
In discussion of these notions, ''Bio-linguistics'' settles most
saliently the idea that has already been proposed in functionalist
literature and by Givón himself, namely, that grammar is ''an
automated speed-up conventionalised language processing device'' 
and, along with other components of coded human communication, is a
result of bio- adaptational processes. Naturally pregrammatical
communication precedes grammatical one, the first is slow,
vocabulary-dependent and analytic.
The first chapter also contains a brief but convincing overview of
basic assumptions of contemporary biology, which allows us to conclude
that all biological entities are characterized by functionally-
motivated design, selection-guided change and variation within
population. Givón compares linguistics, where synchronic variation
was always thought to be rather an exception than a rule, with modern
biology, where synchronic variation is thought to be quite normal
within the population and it is intimately connected with ongoing
change. It is reasonable that Givón is deeply persuaded that
linguistics should follow biology in this aspect, since all cognitive,
communicative, grammatical systems are biologically-based. The next
logically righteous statement concerns typology, namely, Givón
suggests that universals need not be absolute because there is a great
amount of factors that influence the language. As a result the
convergence between functional, typological and diachronic aspects of
grammar is manifested.
Further on, the method of reductio ad absurdum is used to show
inefficiency of a structure-oriented approach in typology.
The statements mentioned so far are illustrated through an analysis of
cross-linguistic variation of passive constructions. This detailed
discussion shows an interplay of fortuitousness and regularity in
functioning and historical development of language, in
conventionalizing the coding patterns of a particular functional
A theoretical foundation of bio-linguistics (a book and a discipline)
outlined in the first chapter encompasses as a sort of a resultant
idea ''the diachronic foundations of linguistic diversity.''
. From the previous speculations the reader can infer the nature
of this foundation, namely, that the ''striking'' analogy between the
diachronic rise of grammatical constructions and the evolutionary rise
of biological organs is not accidental, rather, it is determined by
the very adaptive nature of language. Synchronic variation, which is
considered to be peripheral and accidental in Saussurian linguistics,
is in fact a cardinal characteristic of language which follows from
the plurality of ''developmental pathways''  leading to raising of
target functional domain from various, though functionally similar
In preamble to chapter 2 (''The bounds of generativity and the
adaptive basis of variation'') two ''extremist'' doctrine are
contraposed, i.e. Chomsky's concept of grammar as an algorithm
functioning according to absolutely regular rules is contraposed to
the ideas by Paul Hopper [1987, 1991], who thinks grammar to be
totally flexible. In preamble Givón aims at showing that linguistics
oriented to language description in concord with biological, cognitive
and communicational patterns, presupposes a middle-ground approach to
grammar, which was implemented in various linguistic doctrines, such
as for instance those of Sapir and Jespersen, as well as in Rosch's
prototype theory or in biological studies by Mayr, Futuyma and Bonner.
In the main part of chapter 2 Givón enters into a controversy not
only with our contemporaries, who defend extreme views on grammar
(viz. Chomsky and Hopper), but with a number of their philosophical
antecedents, with the whole Platonic tradition (Platonic essentialism
- St. Augustine - Descartes - Russell) in which the categories of mind
are thought to be clean, unambiguous and discrete. Antecedents in
psychology of both Chomsky and Hopper are also mentioned, viz. logic-
driven semantics for the former and semantic networks with spreading
activation by Collins and Quillian  and Collins and Loftus
, for the latter.
The prototype theory whose basics are outlined in chapter 2 is taken
as a cornerstone for the middle-ground approach to linguistic
categories. In the following sections a few case studies that
convincingly refutes both extreme conceptions are presented: the
criterial features of the category subject (following Keenan 
Givón assumes that none of them is absolute); cross-linguistic
variation of grammatical categories (the analysis reveals that ''the
subjects or objects of some languages are more prototypical than of
others'' ); intra-linguistic variation (the analysis of few
examples from various languages shows the variation to be the source
and the result of the on-going morphosyntactic change); synchronic
variability in rule application (the analysis shows that rules do
exist, but their application is governed by semantic, pragmatic or
cognitive considerations). Probably the most striking case study in
this row is an analysis of spontaneous conversation in English. A
rather long transcript from an English oral dialogue presented in
chapter 2 gives a reader who never treated natural conversational
language a good idea of how far it stands from the ideal
grammar. Impressive is the ''translation'' from the emergent grammar
to standard. At the same time, the ratio of deviations from standard
grammar in conversation equaled to be 2,01%. Thus, these facts show
once again that grammar displays ''a complex mix of both rigid
Platonic Generativity and Wittgensteinean free-for-all'' .
The reasons for such a state of affairs (presented in discussion) are
in the very nature of grammar: it serves the speeding of communication
and that is why should be automated, but it also should be partly
flexible in order to make adaptive innovation and learning possible.
Chapter 3 (''The demise of competence'') begins with the discussion of
(non-)configurationality. The discovery of non- configurational
languages called into question the very basics of formal grammatical
description, i.e. universality of constituency, hierarchy and linear
order as formal properties of grammaticalized clauses. Entering into
the discussion of problems concerning (non- )configurationality,
Givón remarks that in fact no statistics of configurational and non-
configurational features in natural texts (performance) has been
reported. Givón maintains that this situation is a natural
consequence of the basic theoretical assumptions of generativist
grammar, noticing that exploration of ''competence together with the
automatic presumption of generativity''  does not presuppose
analysis of texts, except for well-edited written texts or
well-reflected de-contextualized artificial examples. Givón
evaluates the outcome of these methodological guidelines with a good
deal of mordancy, and concludes that there is no surprise that the
''prototype non-configurational language always turned out to belong
to some exotic, tribal, oral, pre- literate, non-Western culture''
, while prototype configurational language ''always turns out to
be well-edited, written, literate, Western, English'' .
Continuing the same line of argument, Givón presents the results of
a study in which oral English is to the so-called non-configurational
languages. Before proceeding to those results, a short but
theoretically crucial contrastive comparison of oral and written
language is undertaken. The main point of this comparison is that the
oral language ''is clearly the core phenomenon of human communication,
in all relevant terms: prior evolution, dedicated neurology, prior
ontogenesis, overwhelming preponderance among languages, overwhelming
preponderance of time spent daily'' . This is why addressing the
written language for the elaboration of grammatical (and general
linguistic) theory is an unnatural, not to say more, choice and
competence (''Chomsky's methodological deus ex machina'' ) is
nothing but a pre-empirical philosophical prejudice, originating from
both Plato and positivism.
The corpus of English spoken language data was created using a rather
witty method. Two speakers separated from each other were presented
the same video and then told that the films they had seen were not
identical. In free conversation they tried to find out the
differences. The quantity of non-configurational features in English
conversation is compared to that in spoken Ute. The study was divided
into three main parts: ''the grammatical treatment of the subject and
direct object in intonation units containing verbs; the grammatical
treatment of noun phrases (NPs); the grammatical treatment of verb
phrases (VPs) and of verbless intonation units'' .
The results of this comparison are as following: ''With one exception,
the defining properties of 'non-configurationality' (flexible word-
order; non-adjacent constituents; zero anaphora) turn out to be a sub-
set of the grammatical features of oral language. The lone exception
(verb-indexed pronominal arguments) has no demonstrable association
with the others'' . Thus the very concept of ''non-
configurationality'' seems to have no sense.
In discussion of Chapter 3 Givón takes up the problem of the notion
'competence' taking into account the newly introduced facts and
methodological settings suggested above. First of all, the concept
'competence' should not be a cover-up excuse for those researchers who
are eager to limit the linguistic database to well-edited, written
language. Givón's data corroborate once again the idea that grammar
is neither completely rule-governed (generative), nor completely
flexible (emergent). As grammar is an 'automated language- processing
device', the ratio of 'rule-governedness' cannot fall much below the
range of 90% - 80% (the data of presented experiment is fully
consonant with this theoretical prediction).
Theoretical conclusion of the chapter concerns the term 'competence',
which according to Givón should be re-interpreted as ''the level of
'performance' obtained at the highest level of generativity and
automaticity'' . This understanding of the notion makes the
concept of 'competence' a methodological base for the study of
'biological information processing'.
Chapter 4 (Human language as an evolutionary product) represents
interdisciplinary data concerning language evolution. All evolutionary
products are outgrowths of evolutionarily earlier systems; the main
idea of chapter 4 is that human language processing ''is an
evolutionary outgrowth of the primate visual information- processing
system'' . The questions arising from this judgment concern
innateness of language-processing mechanisms. The discussion lies
between two extreme positions: 1) All language- processing modules are
not language specific, they ''continue to perform their older
pre-linguistic task[s]'' (123); 2) All language- processing modules
are entirely new or at least ''heavily modified to perform their novel
linguistic tasks'' (123). The truth is not found yet and may lie
somewhere in the middle. As follows from what has been said so far,
two cycles of code development must have taken place in the process of
language evolution. First is the rise of lexicon (phonology is its
coding instrument), second is the rise of grammar (morpho-syntactic
structure is its coding instrument). The adaptive reasons for the
rise of both cycles should be found.
In chapter 4, a functional-adaptive overview of human communication is
recapitulated. The concepts introduced in previous chapters are
specified in more accurate terms and endowed a somewhat new, in
particular, a psychological gist. The component parts of the cognitive
representation system are taken up once again on a new cycle of
The conceptual lexicon is described as a network of nodes and
connections. The network includes relatively time-stable individual
lexical concepts (both 'senses' and code-labels). In psychological
literature the conceptual lexicon is usually recognized as semantic
Propositional information grammatically coded as clauses is built-up
of words and is usually recognized by cognitive psychologists as
Multi-propositional discourse is built-up of smaller units, the
smallest are grammatically coded as clause chains. In psychology
multi- propositional level is recognized ''as a distinct
representational entity, albeit often conflated with propositional
information under episodic memory'' .
New ideas are also suggested with respect to the 'symbolic
The peripheral sensory-motor code (phonological words) includes a
perceptual decoder and an articulatory encoder, while the modality can
be auditory-oral, visual-gestural, tactile-motor, etc. The grammatical
code is discussed in much detail. Grammar is the evolutionarily
youngest component of human communication. Lexicon is acquired before
grammar in the process of natural first and second language
acquisition. Pre-human species use 'concepts' in natural communication
in this or that way; moreover, birds, dogs, horses, primates and other
species can be easily taught code-labels of various modalities. These
facts ''strongly suggest'' that semantic memory is already in place in
many pre-human species, while it is hardly possible to demonstrate the
ability of pre-humans to use grammar.
The organization of grammar as structural code is overviewed and
grammar's functions and structures are presented in parallel columns
of the table. Specific properties of pre- and proto- grammatical
communication are highlighted and summarized in order to show that it
is slow and heavily vocabulary-driven - another argument for the
evolutionary precedence of lexicon to grammar. In accordance with the
main aim of chapter 4, neurophysiology of the primate visual
information processing system is described as undoubtedly interactive
and hierarchically organized. Visual information processing splits
into two main streams: object recognition (ventral stream) and
episodic tokens recognition (dorsal stream). The correspondences
'object recognition : semantic memory : lexicon' and 'spatial
relation/motion : episodic memory : propositions' are transparent.
The next step is an overview of the facts concerning the neurology of
human language. There is no surprise that 'modularity vs. interaction'
problems are touched upon. The important question of whether modules
involved in language processing are or are not dedicated to
exclusively this processing is deliberately bypassed by
Givón. Summing up the facts (mainly generalizations of modern views
with respect to function localization, as well as various experimental
and aphasiology data) Givón asserts that ''the conclusion that the
neural circuits that support language processing in humans evolved out
of their respective pre-linguistic precursors, primarily out of
various components of the visual information-processing system, is
inescapable'' . Supporting arguments divided into three groups
are provided for this hypothesis. The first group of arguments
support the idea that auditory-visual coding was the first stage of
human communication, the second group of arguments shows that further
evolutionary step was the shift to auditory-oral coding, the last
group contains the grounds for the suggestion that grammar was the
latest developmental step of human language.
These conclusions (the last one, first of all) confirm the view on
language as an evolutionary product that has emerged as a result of
analogy and recapitulation of pre-human neural structures. In other
words, language processing modules are neither new nor language
specific. The last part of this chapter contains a number of
'developmental' arguments supporting the complex of ideas outlined
Chapter 5 (''An evolutionary account of language processing rates'')
continues the line of discussion commenced in chapter 4. This chapter
presents the results of experiments confirming the hypothesis that
human essential of the language processing are ''an evolutionary
extension of the primate visual information-processing system'' (163).
The chapter begins with the information relevant to further
speculations and conclusions. Experiments and statistics show that
temporal flow of word-processing is about 250 msecs per word and
clause processing is about 1.0 sec per clause. These temporal
parameters match psycholinguistic data on mental activation and
neuro-psychological data on brain activation.
Then some neurological data (functional location and brain correlates
of both visual information processing and language processing) are
presented, on the basis of which the following hypothesis is proposed:
''multi-modular neurological apparatus that supports human language
had its clear evolutionary precursors in various homologs in the
primate visual information-processing system'' .
A set of experiments was designed in order to check this hypothesis.
Subjects were presented with pictures of two kinds: state/event
pictures and series of pictures presenting an episode. Presentation
speed varied. Then subjects were asked to describe what they had seen.
A break at recall level was observed between 1000 msecs and 500 msecs
for the episode and between 250msec. and 125msec. for the state/event.
The 'amazing' coincidence of temporal parameters in visual information
processing and language processing is treated as confirming the
hypothesis put forward in the beginning of the chapter. Chapters 4 and
5 can be viewed as compositional climax of the book. The following
chapters contain further development and illustrations of and
inferences from the basic ideas defended in these two chapters.
Chapter 6 (''The diachronic foundations of language universals'')
carries on the discussion of evolutionary laws into the field of
typological studies. The chapter begins with a short history of
pendulum fluctuations between the ideas of diversity and universality
of languages. Then the principles of taxonomy of typologically
attested phenomena are discussed. Functional approach to typology is
advocated and its implementation is convincingly demonstrated on
various data. The main idea is that the only reliable basis for
cross- linguistic comparison of structures should be the identity or
at least similarity of their functions. Givón shows the infelicity
of an approach in which language universals are viewed from a purely
synchronic point of view (from Bloomfield to Chomsky). This approach
is compared to the 18th century biology with Linnaeus'
classification. The only explanatory theory should be an evolutionary
one because the structures responsible for a particular function are
the result of various pathways of grammaticalization. The source
structures of grammaticalization can be different but their functional
content has always some common properties, that underlie the emergence
of anew function out of the older one in the process of
grammaticalization. Givón expressly notices that the adopted
explanatory and evolutionary functional approach to typological
generalizations was first introduced in the work of Joseph Greenberg.
Another direction of development of the ideas put forward in chapters
4 and 5 can be found in chapter 7 (''The neuro-cognitive
interpretation of 'context'''). This chapter establishes essential
links between a psychological notion of selective attention and a
linguistic concept, viz. context. A brief recapitulation is given for
the notions introduced above, such as lexicon (= permanent semantic
memory) and text (= episodic memory). Special attention is paid to
the concept of 'working memory' (= attention). Working (or
short-term) memory is defined as ''small storage-and-processing
capacity of short temporal duration, for material that is kept
activated - i.e. attended to'' . It includes conscious (executive
attention) and non-conscious modality- specific components. A
schematic description of interaction between attentional activation
and mental episodic representation is provided. Givón takes for
granted (and this seems to be quite uncontroversial) that
communication is ''an overlap between mental representations'' and
that it is based on shared cultural context, current discourse and
speech-situation context, which are reflected in semantic, episodic
and working memory correspondingly. Givón convincingly demonstrates
the ways in which the speaker appeals to the mental accessibility of
discourse referents to the hearer (the latter is due to the three
above mentioned components of the communicative context).
Givón continues by providing a description of experimental data
illustrating that episodic memory is 'a highly selective' mental
representation of past experiences, which is due to the highly
selective character of its entry channel, that is, of working memory.
The subjects were experimentally instigated to produce dialogues after
being individually presented an identical videotape with a simple
action story with two participants. Subjects had to 1) compare what
they had seen and 2) then to tell and then to retell the experimenter
what their conversation was about.
Experimental dialogues included portions of conversational dynamics
and narrative portions. The analysis of recollections of conversations
revealed that speakers remember the shifting of speaker-hearer roles (
''who-said-what''), shifting of intended speech- acts (of ''said'',
''asked'', etc. types), explicit shifting of epistemic modalities. It
is interesting that subjects never mention in their recollections
implicit grammar-linked devices of the speaker/hearer
Grammar, being ''a highly automated language-processing device'' 
automates, among other things, the ''access to the constantly shifting
communicative context'' . Major discourse- oriented structures
and their functions (such as tense, aspect, modality, etc.) are listed
and analysed in order to assess the experimental results and to draw
The discussion begins with the statement that episodic memory is
formed via both conscious and sub-conscious attentional
activation. The conception of communicative context as of a
highly-selective mental representation of the situation is contraposed
to the conception of context as of ''a faithful mirror of objective
reality'' . Processing in accordance with the principle ''attend
first to the most urgent task''  make it possible to implement
the auditory-oral language processing within severe time
limits. Awareness, bringing the information into the level of
consciousness takes extra time. No wonder that grammar - the most
perfect and evolutionarily modern device of speeding up of information
flow - is used subconsciously, even in those cases when it is used in
order to shift (possibly implicitly) the belief-and-intention
states. In the situation of speech time pressure, a lot of
(irrelevant) details of 'objective' situation should be lost.
Constantly shifting mental states are relevant at the moment of
communication only. Implicit inputting them through the non-executive
working memory channels seems to be a good adaptive choice.
The last question raised up in chapter 7 is how people model states of
minds of their communication partners; this modelling is inevitable
since sharing the attentional focus and perspective by the speaker and
the hearer is a necessary stipulation for the felicitous
communication. The easiest way to achieve that goal is to identify
one's own mind to the mind of the communicant. This identification
should by no means be conscious and most probably it is an extension
of evolutionarily older functions.
In chapter 8 (''The grammar of the narrator's perspective in
fiction''), the ideas put forward in chapter 7, are developed with
respect to the narrative texts and focuses on the problem of
narrator's voice. The first idea proposed with respect to this aspect
is an observation that there are two types of narrators: first person
narrators and third person narrators.
The chapter contains an analysis of a few pieces of contemporary
fiction and focuses on narrator's perspective. Three types of
predications are distinguished: externally accessible, internally
accessible and subjective. All three are available to the first person
narrator. While the first-person narrator is inside narrative frame,
the third person narrator is outside the frame. However, an analysis
undertaken by Givón shows that, unlike journalist and academic
prose, fiction is characterised by persistent change of
perspective. This change of perspective may be expressed by both
lexical and grammatical means. The control of this change is assigned
to the third person narrator.
These results are discussed within an evolutionary approach. Narrative
in fiction ''is but the natural outgrowth of everyday face-to- face
communication''  in which perspective is ''by default''
controlled by the speaker. Fiction introduces the reader into the
face- to-face communication of the characters. Assigning the control
of perspective to the third persons is a device used in order to
create an imaginary fictional universe.
Chapter 9 (''The society of intimates'') views the communication
within cultural context in the frames of an evolutionary approach and
culture itself is represented as a result of adaptation. The laws of
organization of communication in the society of intimates are compared
to those in the society of strangers.
Trust and co-operation being the result of cultural and biological
evolution are basic principles of the organisation of the society of
intimates. Trust and cooperation characterise contemporary societies
of intimates and they also underlie the isles of intimacy existing in
modern complex societies. Socio-cultural mechanisms of co-operation
between intimates are inherited from primate species and cooperative
behaviour is procedural, subconscious and results from 'ritualisation'
or 'grammaticalisation' rather than from rational choice. The adaptive
grounds of co-operation is determined by the fact that survival of
individuals in primitive societies is to a large degree dependant of
the survival of intimates (kin or relatives). Thus, culture and
evolution are ''complementary and mutually dependant'' .
The main characteristics of the society of intimates are listed and
illustrated by ''Trobriand case'' [Weiner, 1976]. One of the main
principles of the society of intimates (viz. the ''no contacts with
strangers'' principle) and the precedence of de-alienation of a
stranger to communication with him or her are compared to similar
phenomena in prehuman (not only primate, but also other mammals')
Then the ''hazards'' of the communication within the society of
intimates are discussed and illustrated on the example of Utes
(Uto-Aztecan [Basso, 1972]) and Ngobe (Chibchan). The basic principles
of such communication are consensus-orientation and strict adherence
to cultural canons, which allows us to view culture as ''a mechanism
of automated social action'' .
Maladaptive features of communication in the society of intimates are
stereotyped patterns of taking decisions and slow character of this
process. The departure of the foraging economy leads to a change in
the social system. Hierarchic (vertical) organisation is called for by
the new social tasks, which presupposes communication with strangers.
Society of intimates (as well as biological populations) is not
absolutely homogenous. Its diversity provides a basis for the
emergence of modern society of strangers out of the society of
intimates). The crucial features of the modern society of strangers
include emergence of a new type of commonality and homogeneity by
media devices and preservation of spheres of intimacy at the same
time. The complex modern societies provide 'a clear adaptive niche'
for addressing the rational choice in non-standard cultural
contexts. The last funny (and sad) chapter (Chapter 10, ''On the
ontology of academic negativity'') moves the reader from the friendly
society of intimates into academic communities, which are
characterised as ''small pond[s] stocked full of hungry sharks''
. Philosophic, linguistic and anthropological reasons for
academic negativity are found.
Following Popper [1934/1959] and Lakatos , Givón addresses the
philosophy of science and demonstrates logical shortcomings in the
architecture of modern scientific theories. As logical irrefutability
of a scientific theory cannot be achieved, competition of theories is
inevitable. Competition between theories implies negation of someone
else's thoughts and theories. Linguistic analysis of
discourse-negation shows that it is not the same as logical
negation. What is the characteristic of the former is not merely a
negation of a particular assertion itself, but rather an indication
someone's ''cherished beliefs are wrong, and that the speaker knows
better'' . Moreover, most cultures treat one's ideas (that is,
one's ''brain children'') as one's ''inalienably possessed body
parts'' . That is why denying one's ideas means denying one's
Anthropological reasons for academic hostility lie in the fact that
expression of negation in the society of intimates may lead to the
alienation crucial to the individual, while in the society of
strangers, one can move on and establish new social relations.
In other words, chapter 10 is the last but not least trait in the
foundation of an evolutionary approach to language and in the erasing
of a boundary between biological evolution, on the one hand, and
language and culture evolution, on the other hand.
The epilogue in which the figure of J. Greenberg is discussed against
the general academic background sounds to some extent optimistic.
This book provokes the reader to think about or to revise or to
strengthen one's beliefs in his or her own scientific and
philosophical platform due to communication with his her associates,
namely the author himself or other writers whose views are found in
the book in the form of numerous quotations.
Thus the reader gets involved into the vivid polemics, characteristic
of modern linguistics. The author of ''Bio-linguistics'' is not an
indifferent bystander of these long-standing debates, he defends
boldly the system of functionalist (as opposed to formalist)
ideas. The level of generality is incredibly high, probably the
highest possible in a book on language. This level is reflected in the
very title of the book. This level of generality of Givón's ideas
makes it rather difficult to write a review of the book, and in
particular to reword Givón's ideas in abbreviated form; besides
their very general character, the ideas proposed by Givón are
intimately related to each other and the whole conception loses
significance if any component of the theory is not spelled out. (The
latter accounts for a certain lengthiness of this review.)
The information per se and many of more or particular observations in
various domains discussed in the book are not entirely new; most of
these has been already proposed in the earlier works by Givón. There
are even some passages that are repeated almost word- by-word within
''Bio-linguistics''. But the déjà vu effect is somewhat
deceptive. Beiny" included into varying contexts, the same facts and
ideas illumine different facets of the theory.
As for the theory itself, it seems to be profoundly grounded, the
argumentation is based on common sense and prompts the reader to
believe it and to join the society of biolinguists. The coverage of
the theory is really wide (as reflected in the very title), it
represents a new step in synthesizing and generalizing of a great
amount of previous investigations, most of which are wide-scoped
theories themselves. I believe that this book opens new horizons in
As an excellently ''falsifiable'' (cf. chapter 10) theory, ''Bio-
linguistics'' provides the reader with the material to admire, reflect
upon, agree with or disagree with. Besides being a manifest of
linguistics of a new type, ''Bio-linguistics'' is a brilliant handbook
that can help bring up a linguist who thinks within common sense frame
and who would not be frightened to penetrate into both subtle details
of particular investigations and into the soars of general theory. The
book is vivid and full of humor. Though it is not fiction, it makes
sense to mention its literary merits. In particular, one gets really a
full illusion of face-to-face communication with the author, which is
utterly pertinent for the genre of the course of lectures. I consider
this book to be not only a linguistic, but also a cultural event.
The only thing which seemed regrettable to me as a Russian reader, was
a total lack of reference to the Russian authors in the otherwise
impressive list of references. However, many of the ideas put forward
in Russian neurophysiology, psychology and linguistics seem to be
consonant with Givón's theory, both those developed by our
contemporaries and those proposed despite the pressure of the
totalitarian regime in Soviet times, such as first of all the ideas
developed within the school of Luria & Vygotsky and its numerous
offshoots. Besides, the views on the laws of polyphony in fiction
texts, professed in the Russian literary criticism and firmly
associated with the name of Bakhtin seem to be concordant with those
parts of Givón's book in which the patterns of shifting of
narrator's perspective in fiction are discussed.
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semantic processing. Psychological Review, 82.
Collins, A. M. and M. R.Quillian. 1972. How to make a language user.
In: E. Tulving and W. Donaldson (eds). Organization of Memory. New
York: Academic Press.
Givón, Talmy. 1979a. On Understanding Grammar. New York: Academic
Givón, Talmy. 1979b. From discourse to syntax: grammar as a
processing strategy. In: T. Givón, (ed.). Discourse and syntax
[Syntax and semantics 12]. New York - San Francisco - London: Academic
Press. 81- 112.
Givón, Talmy. 1984. Syntax: A Functional-Typological
Introduction. Vol.I, Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
Givón, Talmy. 1990. Syntax: A Functional-Typological
Introduction. Vol.II, Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
Givón, Talmy. 1995. Functionalism and Grammar. Amsterdam:
Keenan, E. L. 1976. Toward a universal definition of 'subject'. In: C.
Li (ed). Subject and Topic. New York: Academic Press.
Hopper, Paul. 1987. Emergent Granmmar. BLS #13. Berkeley: Berkeley
Hopper, Paul. 1991. On some principles of grammaticalization. In E.
C.Traugott and B. Heine (eds). Approaches to Grammaticalization, TSL,
19, vol. I, Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
Lakatos, I. 1978. The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Popper, Karl. 1934/1959. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York:
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Trobriand Exchange. Austin: University of Texas Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marina Rusakova is a researcher at the Russian language department of
the State University of Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Her main research
topics are experimental morphology and morphosyntax of Russian (e.g.
nominal agreement), speech errors.