Human language may be described as a complex network of linked words. In such a treatment, each distinct word in language is a vertex of this web, and interacting words in sentences are connected by edges. The empirical distribution of the number of connections of words in this network is of a peculiar form that includes two pronounced power–law regions. Here we propose a theory of the evolution of language, which treats language as a self–organizing network of interacting words. In the framework of this concept, we completely describe the observed word web structure without any fitting. We show that the two regimes in the distribution naturally emerge from the evolutionary dynamics of the word web. It follows from our theory that the size of the core part of language, the ‘kernel lexicon’, does not vary as language evolves.