Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language

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The second revolutionary implication of concatenation was linearization. The challenge of concatenation immediately allocated dividends to those speakers who could produce longer strings, maintain the clarity and coherence of their instructions, and do it faster. With the rise in speed, as signs came to be pronounced closer and closer together, phonological relations at the utterance level could begin to emerge, to allow for the swift move along the string of sounds.

The listeners, for their part, had to nd ways to interpret the longer strings, calculate the intersections between larger sets of experiences, and also do it faster—to keep pace with the speakers. The emergence of concatenation, then, began a developmental process that gradually forced the emergence of internal complexity in the evolving technology—from the outside in.

From the symbolic landscape and the phonetic system that had already begun to evolve, semantic and phonological structures began to emerge. As the system grew in complexity, however, new types of problems began to appear. Speakers were gradually producing longer, more complex utterances, and these became more and more difficult to interpret. This, together with other problems, must have gradually begun to require a collective effort of a totally new type—that of the mutual-identification of normative rules for the regulation of the actual process of linguistic communication.

This was the beginning of the protocol. Speakers, in their constant attempts to understand and be understood, began to explore different options: norms of linear order , for example, adjacency and iconicity. Such innovations began to reduce the levels of misinterpretation, and sparked a new dynamic of collective exploration and stabilization of more formalized variations—more explicit standards for mutually identified behavior. When they began to stabilize their protocols, speaking communities already had all the components of the technology in their rightful place.

From now on, all the relevant evolutionary dynamics would spiral together. The dating of the emergence of language is a highly contested issue in the discourse see, for example, the fascinating debate between Watts and Dediu and Levinson What all socially minded scholars seem to agree on is that language began to emerge before Homo sapiens came onstage, in communities of Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis. In terms of the narrative presented here, this assumption makes perfect sense.

These were the species that put us on track as a co-operative, inventive, technological, mutually identifying animal. It stands to reason that it was they who gradually found themselves confronted with the challenge of instruction. Like the genius collective inventors they were, they also found the solution.

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In a very deep sense, however, the solution they found was probably already out of their league. They were expert experiencers, probably much better than we are, but language forced them to weaken their dependency on experience—and develop a worldview based on imagination. They were expert experiential communicators, in all certainty much better than us, but language gradually forced them to systematically suppress most of what they knew how to communicate.

At every given moment, it took the entire collective genius of their communities to push the technology forward, but the individual speakers around language only managed to use it to variable degrees. As they began to be selected for their linguistic capacities—when language started to seriously change their selective environment—individual speakers joined the evolutionary spiral, and began to accommodate their cognitions, emotions, anatomies, physiologies, and genes to the technology.

From this process emerged a new species adapted to language: Homo sapiens. The new species adapted itself to language in the exact two ways predicted by my theory. The first was the emergence of cognitions, anatomies, and physiologies specifically adapted to fast speech Lieberman , Tongues were lowered into the pharynx, and brain circuits developed to control the increasingly sophisticated processes involved in speech production. In terms of the hypothetical narrative detailed above, this means that Homo sapiens either received the challenge of fast concatenation from his ancestors, or invented it by himself.

Either way, the specialized anatomies and physiologies evolved for the use of a technology that was already there, strongly demanding higher capacities for efficient usage. Lieberman dates the emergence of the full capacity for fast speech between fifty to ninety thousand years ago. It is around this time, maybe slightly earlier, that Mithen identifies the first archaeological clues, from new social activities and new material artifacts, for the second adaptation—full-fledged human imagination.

Mithen begins his story with the capacity of theory-of-mind that we share with the apes and defines seven steps on the way from there to modern imagination. He mentions language, of course, but almost in passing.

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From the point of view developed here, however, language must have been the single most important determinant of the emergence of human imagination as we know it. Other animals probably have to use basic imagination for the planning of action, and pre-linguistic humans developed the capacity further for their complex activities. In all this, however, imagination is only activated on the spot, by experiential problems that require the retrieval of past experiences.

The imagined experience combines real-time experience with materials from memory, and the imagining animal has to calculate the relevant intersections between what it experiences at the moment and what it remembers. Language, however, requires something radically different: the construction of an imagined experience on the sole basis of the creative assembly of pieces of experiential memory—in isolation from real-time experience.

It requires listeners to calculate the intersections between sets of memories. For the first time, imagination is activated independently of experiencing. Homo sapiens emerged as an answer to the two most pressing challenges of language, but it was definitely not the only species that had to face them. Dediu and Levinson analyze a wealth of evidence for the claim that our sister species, Homo neandertalensis , had language too—a perfectly reasonable assumption if we agree that language was invented by the ancestors of both species which implies that other descendants, like Homo denisova , may have also had language.

Dediu and Levinson also show that the Neandertals may have developed language further: their sound-production anatomies seem to be more suited for the task, and their cultures show clear signs of imagination. Like us, for example, they buried their dead. Where they took their language, and what it looked like, we will probably never know. The growing human capacity for creative imagination turned us into who we are not just in positive terms. There was a darker side. At a certain point along the way, some of the more intelligent speakers must have begun to realize that the new technology could be used with a very different type of communicative intent—the intent to deceive.

This was a moment of enormous consequences: the lie was born. The intent to deceive as such was already there before language. Other animals deceive as well Dawkins and Krebs Language, however, provided deceivers with a tool so much more powerful than presentational communication that it changed deception forever. Three interrelated factors were involved. First, experiential communication allows for the communication honest or deceptive of a much narrower set of meanings than language—those meanings that are anchored in the here and now of the communication event.

With language, the set of possible meaning-types explodes—for honest communication as well as for deception: everything that has ever been mutually identified becomes a potential lie. Second, the nastiest characteristic of the lie is the fact that it is functionally based on the very trust it betrays: you can only lie to those with whom you share a language, and among those you can only lie to those who trust you to tell the truth. The very logic of language and the very nature of the process of socialization for language thus prepare the listeners for their unfortunate role as the potential victims of deceptive communication.

Third, and much more important, is the fact that in presentational communication, communicators can only present their interlocutors with something that is there for them to experience. Communicators, for example, cannot threaten their interlocutors unless they really are frightening. Whatever is communicated may be verified or rejected by the others in real time, and because of that, presentational deception is a very difficult fit. We still value it very much: the great actors that we admire are the best presentational deceivers.

Consequently, the apes usually deceive by hiding something that is there—not by trying to present something that is not. With language, however, the problem simply disappears. It allows communicators to tell their interlocutors about things that they cannot experience—and thus cannot verify or reject at the time of communication. Language thus deprives the listeners of the single most important tool that they could use to defend themselves against deception: the critical judgment of what they just heard on the basis of what they experience with their own senses.

Taken together, the three factors actually carry a rather amazing implication: the invention of language eventually did more to enhance the human capacity for deception than it did to enhance the human capacity for honest communication. The functional envelope of presentational deception is narrower than that of honest presentational communication, but the functional envelope of linguistic deception is wider than that of honest linguistic communication: language allows speakers to communicate mutually identified experiences external to the here and now, but as long as they are honest, they may still only communicate, at every given moment, those experiences they did experience: this is what honesty is all about.

Honest speaking is bound by the contingencies of the experiential world of the speaker both external and internal. In lying, however, the speaker is for the first time truly released from the bounds of experience: everything that can be said can be lied about. So much so, as a matter of fact, that it seems tempting to postulate that language was originally invented for lying—that it was born as a tool of deception.

Everything said here so far indicates, however, that this could not possibly be the case. The collective effort of the invention and stabilization of the new technology must have been based on high levels of reliability and trust between the inventors: otherwise they would not have been able to get the system going.

But when language was stabilized, when certain levels of trust for language were achieved, the door was opened—and some individuals rushed in. Because of that, the entire history of the evolution of language, beyond the original invention, must have been closely tied up with the function of the lie. Theoretical models of the evolution of language usually think about the lie in terms of the more fundamental problem of the evolution of co-operative behavior. The argument runs as follows: The individuals involved in any collective project should not just be willing to share the collective gains of the project—they should also be committed to give their share of the effort.

They should be willing to pay the price. For the project to survive, of course, the gains should be greater than the cost. The problem is that co-operative projects also invite free- loaders to the table: if you manage to get your share of the gains without putting in your share of the effort, you end up in an even better position than others. This is a rational strategy, which means that it should in principle be adopted by everybody. If it were, however, the entire project would collapse. Co-operation, then, is a reasonable individual choice only to the extent that the others are also willing to avoid freeloading.

Everybody should agree to put some of their selfish interests aside. To explain the emergence of co-operative systems in evolution, we should find a way to theoretically control the phenomenon of freeloading. In the case of language, freeloading is lying. Language is based on trust, but once the trust is there, lying seems to be the most advantageous individual strategy.

If everybody lied, however, the trust would collapse, dragging language down with it. Different writers thus try to control lying in different ways: human societies and individuals became more co-operative already before the emergence of language Tomasello, , ; honest communication was ensured by conformist learning and moralistic enforcement of norms Richerson and Boyd, ; language evolved on the basis of a rise in social trust and the emergence of the rule of law Knight, , ; societies managed to win the war against individual deception by the invention of the collective lie Knight ; language evolved as a kin-selected system, which ensured honest communication within the kin group Fitch, ; and more.

All these explanations are undoubtedly important, but they also seem to betray an implicit universalist assumption: the option of freeloading is equally open for all individuals. This, however, could not have been the case. Lying requires more emotional control than telling the truth: liars have to prevent their faces and bodies from betraying their intentions Vrij, The consequences of getting caught lying are often less intimidating than actually telling the truth DePaulo et al. Most importantly, lying is a more complex cognitive activity than honest speaking, and lie detection is more complex than simple comprehension, both requiring additional cognitive processing Spence et al.

All this carries a simple implication: the drama of the lie should be read as a variable story. Not everybody lied, not everybody lied efficiently, not everybody lied to everyone else, and not everybody who lied got caught. More than anything, the first liars must have been among the most imaginative speakers in their communities. The challenge is the translation of the intent into the socially constructed terms of language. This challenge is also involved in the lie, of course, but the major difficulty resides somewhere else: the speaker has to artificially imagine an experiential intent in his or her mind which, from his or her experiential point of view, is counter-factual.

The speaker has to imagine a world different from the one he or she actually experiences. All linguistic communication requires imagining for understanding. The first liars found the ways to imagine for speaking. And they found new ways to control and suppress their emotions, and prevent their systems of presentational communication from betraying their intentions: good liars have poker faces. This is exactly what the apes simply cannot do. All this could not have been easy. Patterns of variability among liars began to emerge: some were more imaginative than others, more controlled, more convincing, more cunning, quicker on their feet.

The better they were, the more they managed to freeload. The victims of the liars, those lied to, must have made as variable a group as the liars. Many of them may have never understood what was happening: their skills were not good enough for the detection of lies. They were easy prey. The liars lied and increased their share of the gains at the expense of their victims, and the sense of trust on which language was founded remained intact. As long as the lie was not exposed, the problem of instability never arose.

Gradually, a new relationship a very special relationship came to be formed between two groups: the best liars and their most devoted believers. The division of labor was clear: the liars described the world to their victims, turned their attention to certain experiences and away from others, invented collective lies, and constructed the symbolic landscape to suit their goals. When those lied to began to look at the world through the perspective spoken to them by the liars—precisely where language took them to places they had no experience with—language turned into the most effective tool of social coercion that ever was.

It still is. Not all those lied to, however, were easy prey. Some of them may have been more experienced or more suspicious, better speakers and listeners, better readers of presentational communication, or simply smarter. Many of them must have been liars themselves—liars also lie to each other. They began to develop different types of defense strategies—including those discussed in the literature—and different individuals probably began to apply them to different degrees and in different ways.

One defense strategy was probably a retreat into the stronghold of the safest, most intimate social bonds. The lie began to re-arrange societies along new lines of suspicion. Secrecy was another strategy. Speaking the truth became a moral issue. At the same time, and as significantly, however, some individuals probably began to develop new ways of lie detection. A more sensitive understanding of speakers and the relationships between what they said and how they behaved allowed for the more efficient detection of liars.

Better memories helped listeners keep track of what speakers were saying, for a longer time, and begin to compare. New means gradually developed to critically judge the relationship between the message and the world. Certain questions came up for the very first time: is this reasonable? Does it make sense? Could it be? These contributed to the development of language-based epistemology just as much as honest, co-operative communication. From a certain point on, then, a full-fledged arms race was launched between the liars, with their unique capacities, and the lie detectors and decipherers, with their own sets of skills.

The liars were forced to work harder, sophisticate their techniques, develop those linguistic behaviors that allowed them to convince: this was the origin of rhetorics. Those lied-to were also forced to work harder too, on all fronts: among other things, this was the origin of logical investigation. Where the liars were strong enough, and especially where they learned to lie together, the levels of stability required for language were actually achieved by the lie, in its collective form Knight In other places, the levels of stability required for language were maintained and fractured, strengthened and betrayed, again and again, in a constant battle.

Freeloading was never controlled. The lie has always been a key determining factor in the web of evolutionary relationships between languages, their speakers, and their societies. A language that would really evolve only for honest communication would probably be much simpler, require much less from its speakers, and change society to a much less dramatic degree.

This, then, is how my theory squeezes through the bottleneck of evolution. Nothing is required beyond what we already seem to know about pre-linguistic societies and their members, and what the theory of evo-devo tells us about the dynamics of evolution—no additional stipulations at the social, cultural, behavioral, communicative, cognitive, or genetic level.

The process has a very long pre-history, in which hominin communities gradually re-invented themselves on the basis of the collective activity of experiential mutual-identification. This is why the apes do not have language: they do not mutually identify. The specific function of language was invented in explorations into a new realm of communication, attempts to use the uniquely human tools of experiential-mimetic communication for something completely new—when the collective demands for information sharing began to exceed the collective capacities of experiential-mimetic communication.

The system was then pushed forward by the constant need to raise the levels of instructive success. The stabilization of the instructive strategy, and the fact that it opened totally new horizons for human societies, dictated a constant flow of innovative changes and developments, in the properties of the old tools themselves, in the communicative environment, and in the cognitive and emotional lives of individuals.

Some of the changes, most importantly the emergence of concatenation, paved the way toward technological revolutions, which in their turn dictated entire sets of new dynamics on all fronts. Technological problems that appeared on the way required mutually identified solutions, and drove the development of sets of normative rules for the regulation of instructive communication.

Language emerged from the outside in , like a bridge constructed simultaneously from both ends of the experiential gap: it began with the first attempts to connect experiential meaning and experiential-mimetic behavior for the function of instruction; gradually isolated the symbolic landscape from experiential meaning and phonetics from experiential-mimetic communication; and then gradually developed semantic and phonological complexity, morphology, and linear syntax.

The entire process was thus characterized by high levels of developmental determinism : if we agree to position the instruction of imagination at the center of the story—with its unprecedented benefits—we find that much of the way languages are today, much of the way we are today, was already there, as potential, at the moment of origin. Throughout the process, speakers were selected for their general ability to work with the technology: our species, and maybe our sisters and cousins too, emerged with unique adaptations to language.

The adaptations, however, are not foundational to language, and they are not universal. They emerged for a technology that was already there, and all along the way they were unevenly spread across populations. The fact that almost all of us, modern humans, are capable of acquiring and using our full-fledged languages does not imply that we are less different from each other than our ancestors were. We have all climbed the ladder of language together—generation after generation of variable capacities. All along the way, certain capacities spread across entire populations, and some of them were also partially genetically assimilated, and in this sense, variability was indeed reduced.

But at the very same time, languages kept evolving, new cognitive challenges emerged—and new patterns of variability were exposed. Daniel Dor, a linguist, media researcher and political activist, received his Ph. The evolutionary model presented in the book has been developed in collaboration with Evolutionary Biologist Eva Jablonka. Dor has also written extensively on the role of the mass media in the construction of political hegemony.

Veritable Wowness. Loved it; learned muchly. Thank you. You cannot have efficient wings without attempting to fly. Code prescribes, with varying degrees of specificity, relationship interface. As complexity increases, new codes are invented, generated, as cited above, by the need to process that complex information, to distill it.

Coding structures are apps for processing information. For example, in the transition from hunter-gatherer social structures to the exponentially more complex information architecture of cities, we added legal, monetary, alphabet and etiquette coding structures to our cultural genome.

These new coding structures helped us process all the new relationships generated by living in cities. Think so. A very nice discussion, but a couple of things bother me. The process hypothesized seems very uniformitarian, yet two crucial steps involve big differences in kind: from mere sensation to memory, and then to imagination—the latter of which the author recognizes as crucial to language. From imagining a possible event or situation and asking whether it is actual we went to utterances regarding which we could ask whether they are true. Problem-solving creatures from apes to elephants and some birds evidently have imagination—and how much does it differ from ours?

Which leads me to my second cavil, which is that he may be selling other creatures short. A fascinanting, intriguing and well-argued account. I wonder, however, as human cognition is such an intrincate issue, whether there are still some missing pieces, such as an increased mental power for conceptualization and the mental construction of symbols, which of course may be strongly reinforced by language and coevolve with it, but might very well have a distinct evolutionary origin and contribute in its own right to the tipping point of linguistic emergence.

Also, as regards social identities, many other social animals surely do recognize the identity of other members in the group, and this dimension of sociality needs to be further studied, both in itself and regarding its contribution to linguistic interaction. Anyway, warmest congratulations, and I am glad to see a well-argued critique of Chomskian mysterious non-evolutionary biolinguistics.

I am a retired information systems professional. I think it would be useful to start thinking about the evolution of language by starting at a biochemical level. I surmise that the living brain contains a plethora of biochemical conditions and that there is some mechanism within the brain that is able to distinguish at least some of these biochemical conditions from every other condition.

Let us label the distinguishing mechanism as consciousness. Up until today as far you, the reader, and I are concerned this has been a successful strategy. How does the brain assist in negotiating through the world? It does so by means of modelling the world. This means that it can envsisage itself, in theory, in relation to the outside world and decide whether carrying out in reality, what, was envisaged in thinking only, would be beneficial to it or not. Now the brain, in our case, is working with thoughts about the outside world, not the things themselves, so if the thoughts are going to be of any practical use the representations[thoughts] must be of real things.

The biochemical conditions, i. There are six senses, five external ones, sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and an internal one, an experience of something greater than ourselves that is experienced when we are wide awake but our brains are fully at rest.

Introduction: The evolution of language - Oxford Handbooks

Language is comprised of words, i. For thoughts which cannot be directly linked to a sensation it should, through logical analysis, be possible to find a link to a thought which is verifiable through one or more of our senses. If this is not possible the thought must be a delusion. Excellent article, the evolution of language is a fascinating topic. Thank you for publishing this. A fascinating account and compelling of the origins of language.

They are coherent, that is, they are not random and co-occur in organized patterns. They take place in conversational turns. Both partners resonate emotionally with each other, and are emotionally responsive to each other, creating a sense of mutuality. Edward Tronick has a film of these fascinating forms of communication that can be watched in You Tube. An explicit form of communication develops in the second year of life based on emerging symbolic, pretend mode imagination form of communication that develops in conjunction with formal language.

All these researchers point out that without this here and now experiential form of communication formal language would never develop and would have no meaning. Library Links. About Library Policies Services. Embed Experimental. Layout options: Carousel Grid List Card. Include data citation:. Copy to clipboard Close. Cite Data - Experimental. Data Citation of the Item Communicating meaning : the evolution and development of language, edited by Boris M. Structured data from the Bibframe namespace is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.

Additional terms may apply to data associated with third party namespaces. Link Analysis Experimental. Network Analysis Inbound Links 1 1 Total. It is rather that they mostly interact with relatives and friends with whom they cooperate and from whom sincerity can be expected in ordinary conditions.

People are typically distrustful of information provided by strangers, or by competitors, or even by relatives and friends in situations of conflict. Communicated information is sifted, rather than automatically accepted as Millikan argues. Another part of the explanation of the viability human communication is the fact that comprehension is, pace Millikan, a form of mindreading and links easily with attending to the speaker's benevolence and competence for a more thorough discussion of the metarepresentational mechanisms involved in sifting communicated information, see Sperber forthcoming.

So, yes, assuming that the problems raised by ambiguity and deception were somehow avoided or solved, there could be a species that communicated in the way Millikan believes humans do. On the other hand, there is nothing in Millikan's teleofunctional framework that implies that communication can only evolve in the way she claims it did. There could be a species that communicated in the way Grice or relevance theory says humans do, and, in fact, we believe that humans are such a species.

At this point we have reached one of our goals: to pry apart Millikan's overall framework from her view of language, and fit this framework together with a view she opposes and according to which linguistic comprehension is a form of mindreading. In the next two sections we explore some of the evolutionary implications of this view of language. Linguistic communication and mindreading. In the past twenty years, the study of the capacity to attribute mental states such as beliefs or intentions to others has become a major focus of cognitive science under names such as Theory of Mind or Mindreading e.

There is a growing body of evidence and arguments tending to establish that a mindreading ability is an essential ingredient of human cognition, and moreover, is a domain-specific evolved adaptation rather than an application of some general intelligence, or cultural competence. What are the relationships between mindreading and the language faculty? Millikan argues that linguistic communication is independent of mindreading, whereas Grice and post-Griceans assume that linguistic communication involves a form of mindreading where, by speaking, the speaker helps the hearer read her mind.

These two views of comprehension as a cognitive process fit differently with developmental and evolutionary considerations. At the developmental level, Millikan assumes that linguistic abilities develop before mindreading, and sees this as further evidence against a Gricean view of linguistic communication. At first blush, the evidence might seem to be in her favour. Whereas language comprehension starts developing in the second year of life, it is only around the age of four that children pass the much-studied "false-belief task" in which they are asked to predict where a character will look for an object that she falsely believes to be in one location when, in fact, it has been moved to another.

Success at the false-belief task is often treated as the criterion establishing mindreading abilities. Indeed, success at the task is a clear demonstration of mindreading abilities. Failure, however, is by no means a demonstration of total lack of such abilities. Mindreading is not an all-or-none affair. The attribution of a meaning to a speaker, and the prediction that a person with a false belief will act on this belief, though both involving mindreading, are two very different performances. The formal resources involved in the two cases are not the same.

In the case of speaker's meaning, what is needed is the ability to represent an intention of someone else about a representation of one's own - a second-order metarepresentation of a quite specific form. From a modularist point of view, it is quite conceivable that children might develop the ability to represent speaker's meaning before being able to deploy other types of second-order metarepresentations. In the case of false beliefs, a first-order metarepresentation of a belief of someone else is sufficient, but what is needed is the ability to evaluate the truth-value of the metarepresented belief and to predict behaviour on the basis of false belief.

We are not aware of any argument to the effect that the ability needed to pass the false-belief task is a precondition for the ability needed to attribute speaker's meaning. There is nothing inconsistent or paradoxical therefore in the idea of an individual capable of attributing speaker's meaning and incapable of attributing false beliefs and conversely. There are, on the other hand, functional reasons to expect the ability to attribute false beliefs to develop after the ability to communicate verbally.

How language shapes the way we think - Lera Boroditsky

The attribution of false beliefs to others plays an obvious role in the ability to filter false information communicated either by mistaken or by deceitful speakers. It plays an obvious role also in the ability to deceive others by communicating false information.

These abilities are asymmetrically dependent on the ability to communicate. Suppose, moreover that, as we have argued, comprehension consists in the attribution of a meaning to the speaker. Then there are reasons to expect attribution of false beliefs to develop after attribution of speaker's meaning. The fact that success at the false-belief task occurs three years or so after the beginnings of verbal comprehension is no evidence against the view that comprehension is a form of mindreading.

Are there, though, positive arguments or evidence to the effect that, say, two-year-olds who fail the false-belief task do attribute meaning to speakers? We would be tempted to say that we all know that they do. As speakers, we take for granted that when we say something we mean something, and that people - including very young children - who understand what we say understand what we mean understand us , in an ordinary sense of the expression. A scientifically more compelling argument is this: young children do disambiguate, identify referents, and understand implicatures.

As we argued before, the only actual explanations of such achievements as opposed to hand-waving in the direction of unspecified explanations draw on post- Gricean pragmatics and presuppose the capacity on the part of the comprehender to attend to speaker's meaning. Further positive evidence of an experimental kind is provided by Paul Bloom's work which shows that the acquisition of lexical meanings - which is involved in very early language acquisition - requires attention to speaker's intentions Bloom At an evolutionary level, the biological evolution of language is, for Millikan, quite independent from that of mindreading.

From a Gricean viewpoint, the evolution of language should be linked to that of mindreading, since utterances are encodings of speaker's thoughts, and are typically recognised as such by the audience Pinker Linguistic communication enhances mindreading abilities and even, some might argue - e. Dennett -, makes true mindreading possible in the first place , and also exploits these abilities in complex cases where Gricean inferences must supplement linguistic decoding. It is reasonable therefore, from a Gricean point of view, to assume a co-evolution of language and mindreading, without committing oneself any further.

From a relevance theory point of view, it is also reasonable to assume a co-evolution of language and mindreading, but there are reasons to commit oneself to a more precise articulation of the two. In standard Gricean approaches, inference is seen as needed in discovering the implicit part of the speaker's meaning, while the explicit part is seen as decoded and disambiguation is not much discussed. Accordingly, there could have been an initial stage in the evolution of language where utterances were wholly explicit and decoded, with Gricean inferences about implicit content evolving only at a later stage.

In other terms, Gricean communication could result from a partial change of function of what might have been, at an earlier stage, a strict code. According to relevance theory, on the other hand, human verbal communication is never a matter of mere decoding. In fact, in its basic structure, inferential communication does not even depend on linguistic stimuli: other behavioural stimuli, e.

Linguistic utterances, however, provide immensely superior evidence for inferential communication. They can be as richly and subtly structured as the communicator wishes, and they are reliably decoded by the audience at an intermediate level in the process of comprehension. The function of linguistic utterances, then, is - and has always been - to provide this highly precise and informative evidence of the communicator's intention. This implies that language as we know it developed as an adaptation in a species already involved in inferential communication, and therefore already capable of some serious degree of mindreading.

In other terms, from a relevance theory point of view, the existence of mindreading in our ancestors was a precondition for the emergence and evolution of language. The bootstrapping problem and its solution. Most evolved domain-specific cognitive abilities have a specific domain of information a "proper domain" - see Sperber , Ch. For instance, different individuals have distinctive faces; an evolved face recognition ability is an adaptation to the prior presence of these faces in the environment and an exploitation of their informational value.

A mutant endowed with a face recognition ability could benefit from it, even if he or she were the only individual so endowed. Some cognitive abilities, however, have a specific domain of information that is initially empty and that gets filled only by the behaviour of individuals who already have and use the ability in question. For instance, an ability to enter into reciprocal exchanges is an adaptation to the opportunities offered by other individuals who are also endowed with this ability.

A unique mutant endowed with a reciprocal exchange ability could not benefit from it until other individuals became also so endowed. Thus the emergence in evolution of abilities that need to be shared by several individuals in order to be adaptive raises a specific bootstrapping problem.

Innate codes found in non-human animals are cases in point. What would be the use of an innate code in a single individual, as long as other members of its species, lacking such a code, could neither decode its signals, nor send it signals of their own? To point out that any actual code is likely to result from several mutations and to have evolved in small steps spreads the problem but does not resolve it. There are, however, at least three ways to tackle this puzzle. The first is to assume that an innate code spread in a population as a neutral trait, initially without benefit but also without significant cost, so as not to be selected out.

The trait then became advantageous and was selected for Sober , when enough individuals sharing it could use it in their interactions and benefit from it. Such a development can occur rapidly, say among the offspring of the initial mutant individual endowed with the trait. Another plausible speculation is that the trait was initially selected for thanks to some other beneficial effect, and that its function as a code emerged as a new function added or substituted to some previous one.

A third, more controversial speculation is that the signals of the code emerged first as "cultural" items, transmitted through learning and not through genes; it then became advantageous to possess them innately, sparing the cost of learning this strictly Darwinian but Lamarkian-looking possibility is known as a Baldwin effect. Human languages, however, are not innate codes. The human language faculty is not an ability to produce and interpret signals, it is an ability to acquire culturally transmitted languages.

Thus the bootstrapping problem raised by the emergence of the human language faculty is not as easily speculated away as that raised by that of the innate code of most animal communication. Even if a Language Acquisition Device, starting as a neutral trait, became shared by a number of individuals, this would not be advantageous to them, since there would still be no language to acquire. The argument applies not just to the initial emergence of a rudimentary language faculty, but also to any later biological development of this faculty.

The emergence of an ability to acquire a different, presumably richer language, is not advantageous in the absence of such a language to be acquired. This bootstrapping problem is at its worst if one accepts the code model of verbal communication. Coded communication works at its best when the interlocutors share exactly the same code. Differences in code typically lead to communication failures.

Now, a modification in the language faculty of one individual, if it had any effect at all on the structure of its internalised language, would introduce a mismatch between her linguistic code and that of other people, and would have a detrimental effect on her ability to communicate.

An individual endowed with a language faculty different from that of others, even if it were "more advanced" in some sense, would stand to suffer rather than to benefit from it. If, on the other hand, we adopt the inferential model of communication, the puzzle becomes much more tractable. Inferential communication is a matter of reconstructing the communicator's informative intention on the basis of the evidence she provides by her utterance.

Successful communication does not depend, then, on the communicator and addressee having exactly the same representation of the utterance, but on having the utterance, however represented, seen as evidence for the same intended conclusion. Different decodings may provide evidence for one and the same inferential interpretation. Here, a metaphor may help. Think of a meanings as points in semantic space. Then according to the code model, any device encodes such a point or several such points when it is ambiguous.

According to the inferential model, on the other hand, a linguistic device encodes a pointer in semantic space or several such pointers when ambiguous that makes accessible, with ordered saliencies, a series of points. According to the code model, a mismatch between the codes of interlocutors must result in the selection of different points, i. Not so according to the inferential model: differently situated pointers may point to the same meaning. The inferential model is thus compatible with a much greater degree of slack between the codes of interlocutors.

Acquiring and using a non-standard version of the common code need not involve any cost, it may even be advantageous. In particular, a language faculty that leads to the internalisation of a grammar that attributes more structure to utterances than they superficially realise that project onto them "unexpressed constituents" for instance may facilitate inferential comprehension Sperber Imagine a stage in linguistic evolution where the languages available consisted in simple sound-concept pairs, without any higher structure at all.

With such a limited code, the decoding by a hearer of a concept encoded by a speaker falls quite short of achieving communication between them. An addressee associating for instance the concept water with the utterance "water" is not thereby being informed of anything. Even a concatenation of expressions in such a language such as "drink water" does not have as its decoded interpretation what we all understand from the homonymous English expression. It does not denote the action of drinking water. Rather two concepts, drink and water , are activated without being linked either syntactically or semantically.

The mental activation of one or several concepts without syntactic linkage does not describe a state of affair, whether actual or imagined. It does not express a belief or a desire. If, however, the people using such a rudimentary code were capable of inferential communication, then the activation in their mind, through decoding, of a single concept might easily have provided all the necessary evidence needed to reconstruct a full-fledged, propositional speaker's meaning see Stainton for a related point. Imagine two individuals of this ancestral species walking in the desert.

One points to the horizon and utters "water". The other correctly infers that the speaker means here is some water. They reach the edge of the water, but one of them collapses, exhausted, and mutters "water". The other correctly infers that the speaker means give me some water. To the best of our knowledge, there is no evidence that the signals of animal communication ever permit such an open range of quite diverse interpretive elaborations. Imagine now a mutant whose language faculty is such that she expects elementary expressions of the code she is to acquire to be either arguments or one- or two-place predicates.

She classifies "drink" as two-place predicate, "water" as an argument, and so on. When she hears her collapsing companion mutter "water," what gets activated in her mind as a result of decoding is not just the mere concept water , but also a place-holder for a predicate of which water would be an argument. Her decoding, then, goes beyond what had been encoded by the speaker, who, not being a mutant, had spoken the more rudimentary language common in the community. This mismatch, however, far from being detrimental, is beneficial to the mutant: her inferential processes are immediately geared towards the search for a contextually relevant predicate of which water would be an argument.

When she talks, our mutant encodes by means of signals homonymous with those of the community not just individual concepts, but predicate-argument structures. When she utters "water," her utterance also encodes an unexpressed place-holder for a predicate; when she utters "drink," her utterance also encodes two unexpressed place-holders for two arguments; when she utters "drink water," her utterance encodes the complex concept of drinking water and an unexpressed place-holder for another argument of drink , and so on. These underlying linguistic structures are harmlessly missed by her non-mutant interlocutors, but are useful to other mutants, pointing more directly to the intended interpretation.

In the language of these mutants, new symbols, for instance pronouns for unspecified arguments, may then stabilise. This illustrate how in an inferential communication system, a more powerful language faculty, which causes individuals to internalise a linguistic code richer than that of their community, may give them an advantage and may therefore evolve whereas in a strict encoding-decoding system, a departure from the common code may be harmful or harmless, but not advantageous. This line of reasoning applies to the very emergence of a language faculty: being disposed to treat an uncoded piece of communicative behaviour as a "linguistic" sign may have facilitated the inferential discovery of the communicator's intention, and led to the stabilisation of this stimulus type as a signal.

Millikan's conceptual framework allows one effectively to articulate various issues raised by the biological and cultural evolution of language. At the same time, her own view of language makes it more difficult to deal with these issues. In particular, it leaves one with an extra problem of massive ambiguity, and it makes the bootstrapping problem, if anything, less tractable. Fortunately, Millikan's conceptual framework can be dissociated from her view of language.

It can be applied to Gricean or relevance-theoretic approaches to language, with, we hope to have shown, some interesting results. Baron-Cohen, S. Bickerton, D. Bloom, Paul Intentionality and word learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences , 1: Boyd, R. Byrne, R. Carston, Robyn Pragmatics and the Explicit-Implicit Distinction. University College London PhD thesis.

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Grice, H. Cambridge , Mass: Harvard University Press. Autism: An introduction to psychological theory. London : UCL Press.

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Hauser, Marc D. Humphrey, Nicholas K. The Social Function of Intellect. Bateson and R. Hinde eds. Growing Points in Ethology. Hurford, J. Krebs, J. Animal signals: Mind-reading and manipulation. Sunderland , MA : Sinauer Associates. Lumsden Charles J. Wilson Genes, mind and culture. Millikan, R. Behavioural and Brain Sciences , 9 1 , pp.

New Frontiers in Language Evolution and Development: Introduction to the topiCS Volume

Pinker, S. Pustejovsky, J. Schiffer, S. Oxford : Clarendon Press. Sober, E. The nature of selection. Cambridge Mass. Sperber, Dan The evolution of the language faculty: A paradox and its solution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 4 , Sperber, D. Khalfa ed. What is Intelligence? Sperber forthcoming Metarepresentations in an Evolutionary Perspective. Sperber ed.

Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language
Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language
Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language
Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language
Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language
Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language
Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language

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