Why We Talk
The Evolutionary Origins of Language

 

by Jean-Louis Dessalles

translated by James Grieve

 

 

                      
   

    

 

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Foreword................................................................................................................. xi

 

Part I - The place of language in human evolutionary history

 

1       Animal and human communication................................... 3

1.1       The biological status of language................................................................. 3
1.2       Animal communication................................................................................. 5
1.3       From signals to behaviour............................................................................ 8
1.4       Language as code....................................................................................... 11
1.5       Communication of human primates........................................................... 20
1.6       Use of language by humans....................................................................... 23
1.7       The originality of language......................................................................... 28

2       Culture, languages, and language.................................... 30

2.1       Why are there many languages?................................................................ 30
2.2       The myth of the mother language............................................................... 34
2.3       Language and the palaeolithic revolution.................................................. 42
2.4       The equal complexity of languages............................................................. 47

3       The biological roots of language....................................... 51

3.1       The organs of language.............................................................................. 51
3.2       Neuronal circuitry dedicated to language.................................................. 54
3.3       Language learning in animals.................................................................... 57
3.4       Does animal communication entail syntax?............................................... 63
3.5       Language learning and universals............................................................. 66
3.6       Linguistic abilities in neonates.................................................................... 68
3.7       The deaf children of Nicaragua.................................................................. 70
3.8       Language is a compulsory activity............................................................. 73
3.9       The faculty of language.............................................................................. 76

4       Misapprehensions about the origins of language............. 77

4.1       That language was a necessary outcome of evolution................................ 77
4.2       That evolution towards language was slow and gradual........................... 80
4.3       That language was an outcome of intelligence........................................... 82
4.4       That in the beginning was the word............................................................ 86
4.5       That language is a vestige of past evolution............................................... 88

5       Language as an evolutionary curiosity............................ 92

5.1       Evolution's directionless advance............................................................... 92
5.2       Nature appears to jump.............................................................................. 98
5.3       The role of macromutation in the emergence of language....................... 100
5.4       Could language be the outcome of a quite different ability?..................... 105
5.5       Dr Pangloss's explanation of language.................................................... 108

6       The local optimality of language.................................... 116

6.1       Between chance and necessity.................................................................. 116
6.2       The slow and the fast in evolutionary change........................................... 118
6.3       Macroevolution and microevolution in the emergence of language......... 129
6.4       What's the point of communicating?......................................................... 135

                    

Part II - The functional anatomy of speech...................................

                    

7       Putting sounds together................................................... 139

7.1       The articulatory gestures of language...................................................... 139
7.2       Was language gestural before it became oral?......................................... 142
7.3       The atoms of language: gestures or phonemes?....................................... 145
7.4       Phonological structuring of languages..................................................... 150
7.5       Mental structures underlying the assemblies of sounds............................ 153
7.6       The nature of the rules of language.......................................................... 157
7.7       The biological function of phonological ability......................................... 160

8       Protolanguage................................................................. 165

8.1       Communicating just with words............................................................... 165
8.2       A language that is not learned.................................................................. 168
8.3       Protosemantics......................................................................................... 173
8.4       Prelanguage, a language without sentences............................................. 178
8.5       The lexicon of protolanguage................................................................... 184
8.6       Protoconversations................................................................................... 190

9       The mechanics of syntax................................................. 194

9.1       The phenomenon of syntax....................................................................... 194
9.2       The importance of relations between words............................................. 197
9.3       Some facts about syntax............................................................................ 200

10     Syntax and meaning....................................................... 210

10.1     From protolanguage to language............................................................. 210
10.2     Semantic recursion and syntactic recursion............................................. 214
10.3     The principle of semantic linking.............................................................. 216
10.4     The autonomy of syntactic mechanisms.................................................... 220
10.5     Another form of syntax............................................................................. 222
10.6     The origin of syntax.................................................................................. 229

11     The structure of meanings.............................................. 232

11.1     Concepts, images, and definitions............................................................ 233
11.2     Thematic segmentation............................................................................. 238
11.3     Double meanings...................................................................................... 246

12     The emergence of meaning............................................. 251

12.1     The dissociation of the two forms of meaning........................................... 251
12.2     A functional role for thematic segmentation............................................. 256
12.3     The emergence of human meaning........................................................... 262

                    

Part III - The ethology of language.................................................

                    

13     Conversation behaviour.................................................. 268

13.1     An apparently unimportant behaviour...................................................... 268
13.2     Some attempts to explain speech events.................................................... 271

14     Language as information................................................ 281

14.1     The constraint of relevance in conversation............................................. 281
14.2     Relevance in the informative mode........................................................... 283
14.3     Creatures responsive to information......................................................... 289
14.4     The biological grounding of the informative mode................................... 291
14.5     Instinctive sharing of information............................................................. 292

15     The birth of argumentation............................................ 294

15.1     Relevance in the argumentative mode...................................................... 294
15.2     The idea of cognitive conflict.................................................................... 299
15.3     The recursive nature of argumentation..................................................... 301
15.4     The proximal function of language........................................................... 307
15.5     The origin of conversational modes.......................................................... 312

16     Language as an evolutionary paradox.......................... 315

16.1     The theory of social bonding.................................................................... 315
16.2     The altruistic character of language......................................................... 318
16.3     Language and cooperation....................................................................... 321
16.4     Language and cheating............................................................................ 324
16.5     The cost of communication....................................................................... 328
16.6     Three stages in the evolution of language................................................. 332

17     The political origins of language.................................... 336

17.1     How speakers benefit by being relevant................................................... 336
17.2     Prestige theory.......................................................................................... 341
17.3     The political role of language in hominids............................................... 344
17.4     Language as showing off.......................................................................... 351
17.5     Homo loquens or Homo politicus............................................................. 355
17.6     The other functions of language............................................................... 357

18     Epilogue........................................................................... 360

18.1     A genesis in three stages........................................................................... 360
18.2     A new view of language............................................................................ 362
18.3     Future perspectives................................................................................... 364

                    

References         ................................................................................................... 367
Index                

                    

 
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