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Meaning, Mind and Communication

Explorations in Cognitive Semiotics

Edited By Jordan Zlatev, Göran Sonesson and Piotr Konderak

This volume constitutes the first anthology of texts in cognitive semiotics – the new transdisciplinary study of meaning, mind and communication that combines concepts and methods from semiotics, cognitive science and linguistics – from a multitude of established and younger scholars. The chapters deal with the interaction between language and other semiotic resources, the role of consciousness and concepts, the nature of metaphor, the specificity of human evolution and development, the relation between cognitive semiotics and related fields, and other central topics. They are grouped in four sections: (i) Meta-theoretical perspectives, (ii) Semiotic development and evolution, (iii) Meaning across media, modes and modalities, (iv) Language, blends and metaphors.

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Chapter 9. Key Roles of Found Symbolic Objects in Hominin Physical and Cultural Evolution: The Found Symbol Hypothesis (Keith E. Nelson)


Keith E. Nelson

Chapter 9

Key Roles of Found Symbolic Objects in Hominin Physical and Cultural Evolution: The Found Symbol Hypothesis

1. Introduction

A fundamental, intriguing, but as yet unanswered evolutionary question is when did any species first begin to use intentional symbols. The definition of a full symbol here adopted is that one object or action or object-plus-action is used intentionally to represent a referent that is distinct from the symbol. In this chapter, these full symbols are distinguished from artefacts and materials that are non-utilitarian and often termed “symbolic” in function in a broad sense, such as red or black ochre blocks or beads with apparent decorative value (Bouzouggar et al. 2007; D’Errico, Henshilwood, Vanharen, and Van Niekerk 2005; Vanhaeren et al. 2006; Marean et al. 2007; Marean 2011). Further, full symbols refer to categories of referent instances, as when a nut that resembles a fish is used to refer symbolically to a diverse range of fish. On the other hand, there is no requirement for these symbols to be “arbitrary”, and as we will see, their reference is typically based on iconicity.

Figure 1. Portable contemporary, potential symbols for “faces” all within hard black walnut shells opened by squirrels and ground squirrels who ate the walnut meat and left varied shapes through chewing on the shells.

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In this chapter I propose the novel hypothesis that the first significant use of full...

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