Rudie Botha, born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1942. Ph.D. from Utrecht University. Professor of General Linguistics at the University of Stellenbosch.
Fellow (1 September 2001 – 30 June 2002)
The NIAS Fellowship enabled me to do essentially three things:
Firstly, it helped me to complete a book offering a critical analysis of conceptual foundations of modern work on the evolution of language. The core finding of the analysis is that the main obstacle to gaining a better understanding of central aspects of the evolution of language is the lack of restrictive theory about (a) the identity of the (pre)linguistic entities that are believed to have been subject to evolution, (b) the nature and properties of the processes by which these entities are believed to have evolved, (c) the ways in which these entities hang together with what are believed to be correlates of them, and (d) the nature of the sources of data from which evidence could be derived for or against accounts of the evolution of language. This is an interesting finding in view of the fact that the main obstacle to acquiring a better understanding of language evolution has been taken by many to lie in the paucity of factual evidence about what actually happened in the evolution of language. If correct, this finding indicates that the focus of work on language evolution has to be expanded in order to include theory construction in a number of new areas. This would amount to a significant reorientation.
Secondly, I was able to expose the main argument of the above-mentioned book to critical appraisal by giving lectures on it at four Dutch universities and by presenting a paper on it at a symposium on the Foundations of the Humanities organised by the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Wetenschapsfilosofie. This exposure was very useful since the discussion of my argument made it clear that, whilst sound in essence, it could benefit from elaboration on ancillary points.
Thirdly, I was able to develop the framework for a second book, one offering an explication and critical appraisal of Noam Chomsky’s controversial views on language genesis.