The origin of language in gesture–speech unity

How Language Began

Part 6. Gumbo: The thought–language–hand link, social interactive growth points, the timeline of Mead’s Loop, and bionic language.

David McNeill, University of Chicago

To end this series, I address four questions regarding Mead’s Loop: 1) what evidence is there for the thought-language-hand link that in theory it established; 2) how did it change face-to-face social interaction; 3) when did it emerge; and 4) how far can it be duplicated artificially? The questions, disparate as they are, are connected through the concept of the growth point, which is the linchpin of each.

The “IW case” reveals the thought–language–hand link

Natural selection of a thought-language-hand link, chiefly in Broca’s Area but also with links to the other “language areas” indicated in . . . → Read More: The origin of language in gesture–speech unity

The origin of language in gesture–speech unity

How Language Began

Part 4: Mead’s Loop (2). Wider consequences.

David McNeill, University of Chicago

As it evolved Mead’s Loop created “new actions,” as mentioned previously. New actions are one of the “wider consequences” of Mead’s Loop. Action itself was a target of natural selection, and the new actions emerged organically. They did not need a separate evolution. A second consequence is metaphoricity. A third is the emblem, a culturally established gesture with metaphoricity at the core. A fourth is how children acquire language – twice, the first of which goes through the equivalent of extinction. A fifth (many more can be identified) is what phenomenologist philosophy calls “being” – “inhabiting” gesture and speech, rather than only displaying them as elements of communication.

. . . → Read More: The origin of language in gesture–speech unity

The origin of language in gesture–speech unity

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Part 2: Gesture-first

By Professor David McNeill

This popular hypothesis says that the first steps of language phylogenetically were not speech, nor speech with gesture, but were gestures alone. In some versions, it was a sign language. In any case, it was a language of recurring gesture forms in place of spoken forms. Vocalizations in non-human primates, the presumed precursors of speech without gesture’s assistance, are too restricted in their functions to offer a plausible platform for language, but primate gestures appear to offer the desired flexibility. Thus, the argument goes, gesture could have been the linguistic launching pad (speech evolving later). The gestures in this theory are regarded as the mimicry of real actions, a kind of pantomime, hence . . . → Read More: The origin of language in gesture–speech unity

A Layman’s Guide to “Roots of English”

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by Professor Sali A. Tagliamonte University of Toronto

Have you ever wondered about the weird ways of speaking of someone you know? In 1995, I moved to England from Canada, taking up a position at the University of York in Yorkshire. My colleagues came from all over Britain, the south, the north, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as other parts of Europe. The topic of dialect differences was in the air all the time as we compared our varieties of English. Surprisingly, despite the obvious phonological differences in my speech compared to all my colleagues, there were unexpected correspondences between myself and my Scots, Northern Irish and Northern English colleagues. In some cases, we had . . . → Read More: A Layman’s Guide to “Roots of English”

Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently

A blog post by John L. Locke

It has long been known that men and women talk differently when conversing with members of the opposite sex. This has never been explained, but insights emerge from same-sex conversations where, free of the need to accommodate to each other, deeper differences between men and women readily bob to the surface.

In Duels and Duets, I claim that modern men and women talk differently because our male and female ancestors followed different evolutionary paths. Since men were selected to aggress and dominate, but could end up killing themselves, they needed a safer way of achieving their goals. Ritualized duels, using words instead of weapons, filled the bill. Verbal duels also provided a way . . . → Read More: Duels and Duets: Why Men and Women Talk So Differently

Language Erosion

There’s a timely article by Laura Spinney in The Independent today highlighting the recent discovery of Koro, a previously unknown language in India spoken by around 800 people. The ensuing discussion around language evolution, and indeed extinction, draws upon the research of Cambridge University Press authors Tecumseh Fitch and Stephen Levinson. . . . → Read More: Language Erosion