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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