Pointing and theorizing on the evolution of language.

Nathalie Gontier

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Pointing and theorizing on the evolution of language

Non-verbal communication such as gesture in general, and pointing in particular, is often invoked in the theorizing on the evolution of language. Following Rousseau, some scholars argue that hominin evolution might be characterized by a mute communication phase, where gestures and expressions predominated communication. Vocalisation is argued to have arisen later in time. Authors have provided evidence that suggests that speech might have even been triggered by the evolution of non-verbal communication and thus that gestural language necessarily precedes vocal language (Gontier, 2006b, 2009).
Yet, when the theories are analyzed, it is not always clear whether pointing, gestures, expressions, etc. are to be considered as proper units of language evolution; or whether they are levels where aspects of language evolution evolve; or by which mechanisms they evolve. A methodology will be proposed to tackle these questions more systematically. More specifically, the field of evolutionary biology has progressed immensely by investigating the evolution of life by looking for the units, levels and mechanisms of evolution. Elsewhere (Gontier, 2006a, 2010), I have argued that the field of evolutionary linguistics can benefit from a similar approach by searching for the units, levels and mechanisms of language evolution. The methodology will be exemplified by investigating whether pointing can be regarded as a unit, level or mechanism of language evolution.

Gontier, N. 2006a. "Introduction to evolutionary epistemology, language and culture." In: Gontier, N., Van Bendegem, J.P. & Aerts, D. (eds). Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture - a Non-Adaptationist Systems Theoretical Approach, pp. 1-29. Springer, Dordrecht (NL). [Theory and decision library, Series A, 39. Series editor: Nida-Rümelin, J.]
Gontier, N. 2006b. "An epistemological inquiry into the 'what is language' question and the 'what did language evolve for' question." In: Cangelosi, A., Smith, A., & Smith, K. The evolution of language: proceedings of the 6th international conference (EVOLANG 6), pp. 107-114. London: World Scientific.
Gontier, N. 2008. "On The Different Applications Of Haeckel's Biogenetic Law In Language Origin And Evolution Studies." In Kern, S., Gayraud, F. & Marsico, E. Emergence of Language abilities, pp. 12-29. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing Ltd.
Gontier, N. 2009. "The origin of the social approach in language and cognitive research exemplified by studies into the origin of language." In, Pishwa, H. (ed.), Language and Social Cognition: Expressions of the social mind, pp. 25-46. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. [Trends in Linguistics.]
Gontier, N. 2010. "How to identiy the units, levels and mechanisms of language evolution." The evolution of language: proceedings of the 8th international conference (EVOLANG 8). London: World Scientific.
Originele taal-2English
Titel4th conference of the International Society for Gesture Studies (ISGS): Gesture: evolution, brain and linguistic structures. Frankfurt Oder, Germany.
StatusPublished - 30 jul 2010

Publicatie series

Naam4th conference of the International Society for Gesture Studies (ISGS): Gesture: evolution, brain and linguistic structures. Frankfurt Oder, Germany.

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