Binarism and linguistic complexity: an evolutionary perspective   

Junichi Toyota

Lund University/University of Belgrade


  This presentation is two-fold. The first part  explains the importance  of binary features, termed here as binarism (Toyota 2009), in the evolution of human language, and the second part deals with the later stages in evolution in forming a complex linguistic structure.   Different works on linguistic evolution often assumes the presence of nominals at the initial stage in language (cf. Heine and Kuteva 2007 among others), and some features of nouns turned into verbs to formulate a predicate. Once this noun-verb pair was present, human language was ready to become more complex. It is possible  to argue that human language has spent much of its evolution on creating this binary pair. In other words, the way down to the current complex linguistic structure can be easily achieved once we have the noun-verb opposition in grammar.  Another feature concerning binarism is that it has to be broken to have a complex structure.  For instance, lexical categories noun and verb can be augmented with adjective and adverb. The expressiveness in language can be dramatically improved by addition of these categories, but this will break the earlier binary opposition. Thus, languages need a stage of binarism but it is broken later as language evolved even further.  Thus, binarism is an indispensable stage in  the evolution of grammar and its presence or absence is a useful indicator in later development.