Protolanguage in ontogeny and phylogeny - Combining deixis and representation

Patricia M. Greenfield, Heidi Lyn, E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We approach the issue of holophrasis versus compositionality in the emergence of protolanguage by analyzing the earliest combinatorial constructions in child, bonobo, and chimpanzee: messages consisting of one symbol combined with one gesture. Based on evidence from apes learning an interspecies visual communication system and children acquiring a first language, we conclude that the potential to combine two different kinds of semiotic element - deictic and representational - was fundamental to the protolanguage forming the foundation for the earliest human language. This is a form of compositionality, in that each communicative element stands for a single semantic element. The conclusion that human protolanguage was exclusively holophrastic - containing a proposition in a single word - emerges only if one considers the symbol alone, without taking into account the gesture as a second element comprising the total message.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-50
Number of pages15
JournalInteraction Studies
Volume9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Keywords

  • animal language
  • child language
  • bonobo
  • chimpanzee
  • evolution of communication
  • symbolic combination
  • holophrase
  • single-word utterances
  • two-word utterances
  • gesture
  • GESTURAL COMMUNICATION
  • LANGUAGE
  • CHIMPANZEES
  • BONOBOS
  • TRANSITION
  • BEHAVIOR
  • CHILDREN
  • SPEECH
  • DEAF

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