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The Evolution of Language: Towards Gestural Hypotheses


Przemysław Żywiczyński and Sławomir Wacewicz

This book discusses the scope and development of the science of language evolution – a newly emergent field that investigates the origin of language. The book is addressed to audiences who are not professionally involved in science and presents the problems of language origins together with introductory information on such topics as the theory of evolution, elements of linguistic theory, the neural infrastructure of language or the signalling theory.

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The half-art, half-instinct of language still bears the stamp of its gradual evolution.

Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871)

For Darwin (1871), language was the greatest invention of humankind alongside fire. Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1995) consider the emergence of language to be the last of the greatest evolutionary breakthroughs, and its explanation was called to be the most difficult problem in science (Christiansen and Kirby, 2003b).1 Language is a unique communication system in which symbolic units can be combined into larger wholes with the use of syntactic rules, and since it is human-specific, language also defines our uniqueness.

This book is the first monograph written originally in Polish on the evolution of language – a new field of science, which emerged at the end of the 20th century. As a field, it is developing dynamically, which should not be surprising, given that rapid development is an inherent aspect of youth. The evolution of language, by being a thoroughly interdisciplinary enterprise, derives its impetus from other sciences, such as modern evolutionary theory, genetics, linguistics, neuroscience, palaeoanthropology, comparative psychology, and primatology, to name only a few. Yet, the evolution of language, as a scientific project, is successful because of the questions which determine the direction of its investigations: “Where does language come from, and why do, out of all living forms, only humans have it?”

Language is the feature that unambiguously shows the difference between humans and other animals....

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