Research report 2003 - Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Diversity and universality of human language: The Jakarta field station

Gil, David

Linguistik (Prof. Dr. Bernard Comrie)
MPI für evolutionäre Anthropologie, Leipzig

Only humans have the gift of language. Yet the human race has not one language, but rather five or six thousand different ones. Moreover, these languages differ from one another in myriad ways, their variegated patterns of sounds, words, sentences and meanings forming a dazzling kaleidoscope of linguistic diversity. Nevertheless, all human languages share profound structural design features which, together, form part of what makes human beings special, distinguishing them from all other creatures. Such features are a reflection of linguistic universality. The Department of Linguistics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology seeks out diversity and universality in the realm of human language. Thus, the researchers are constantly looking for patterns of variation, pushing the outer limits of how different languages can be from each other. However, when the limits of such diversification are encountered, they try to establish common properties which are then said to be shared by all human languages. By discovering such patterns of linguistic diversity and universality, the department contributes towards the broader goal of the Institute, which is to gain a better understanding of the nature and the origins of mankind.

For the full text, see the German version.

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