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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 11. From Conversation to Language: An Evolutionary Sensory-Motor Account (Alessandra Chiera)


Alessandra Chiera

Chapter 11

From Conversation to Language: An Evolutionary Sensory-Motor Account

1. Introduction

This chapter offers a holistic model of language evolution, namely a model in which the specific dimension of conversation, rather than representing a late product of evolutionary history, marks the first stages of human communication. On the basis of this model, it is suggested that a specific pragmatic function characterizing the conversational context, namely alignment (Pickering and Garrod 2004), might have fostered linguistic communication. The concept of alignment refers to the coordination of situation or mental models (Zwaan and Radvansky 1998) with underlying dialogue, and is believed to be achieved by a primitive mechanism. In the same vein, Zlatev and colleagues (Zlatev and Andrén 2009; Zlatev 2013) pinpoint a specific stage in the development of intersubjectivity close to the “proto-conversations” capacities outlined by Trevathen (1979): proto-mimesis. Such a primary phenomenon based on perception/action systems allows empathetic engagements that could be considered as a first stage in semiotic development (Zlatev 2013); in other words, the social-semiotic nature of language rests on several bodily abilities that are involved in increasingly more complex forms of intersubjectivity (Zlatev 2008a).

A methodological claim at the base of this work is that an evolutionary theory of language should be constrained by an empirical cognitive account of linguistic use. To this extent, the question about the evolution of language and the question about the functioning of language are deeply intertwined. Thus, the...

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