The Cognitive Semiotics of Cultural Evolution
Edited By David Dunér and Göran Sonesson
Jordan Zlatev - Chapter Two : Mimesis: The Role of Bodily Mimesis for the Evolution of Human Culture and Language
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Mimesis: The Role of Bodily Mimesis for the Evolution of Human Culture and Language
An evolutionary adaptation for bodily mimesis – the volitional use of the body as a representational devise – is argued to be the precondition that made the evolution of human culture possible, including uniquely human (and yet pre-linguistic) features such as (over)imitation, pedagogy, intentional communication, and representational capacity. Furthermore, it is mimesis that potentiated the evolution of language itself. Speech evolved atop bodily mimesis, via a transitional stage of multimodal protolanguage. This hypothesis is supported by (a) the extensive presence of sound symbolism in modern languages, (b) its psychological reality for speakers, and (c) its contribution to language acquisition. Evidence for each of these claims is presented and discussed.
2.1. What Makes Us Special?
It is often assumed that it is language that makes human cognition and culture unique (e.g. Christiansen & Kirby 2003). Indeed, the representational and combinatorial powers of language place it on a level of semiotic complexity that is qualitatively distinct from that of the communicative systems of animals (Zlatev 2009). However, this does not imply that it was the evolution of language per se that set our species on a separate trajectory compared to that of all other living creatures on our planet. Rather, the thesis put forth in this chapter1 is that human culture rests on a type of consciousness that is both uniquely intersubjective...
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