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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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Chapter 1 The Beginnings of Language and Language Origins


The history of enquiry into language origins shows how the emergence of language was regarded as a key issue from the earliest times – one that is crucial for understanding of what makes us human. Interest in the genesis of language is universal – it appears in various cultural and historical periods, inspiring thinkers to construct scenarios of language creation based on contemporary evidence and ideas. In addition to emphasising the element of universality, this line of enquiry provides inspiration for contemporary researchers: questions posed in the distant past continue to attract the attention of scholars. These include, for example, whether in the initial phase of its development, language imitated the sounds of nature or what the original modality of language was. Our reconstruction also has another, equally important goal, which is to raise awareness of the qualitative difference between speculations about the beginnings of language in even the recent past, and the strictly scientific approach adopted by the contemporary research on language evolution, the modern field of knowledge that deals with the problem of language origins.

This chapter is divided into two parts. In Section 1.1, “Religious beginnings”, we discuss religious reflections on the beginnings of language, particularly the divine origin of language. Drawing on examples from both the occidental Christian and Jewish traditions, as well as that of India, we illustrate the universality of ideas about the origins of language and its diversification. Section 2.1, “Glottogenetic thought”, is devoted to naturalistic scenarios of the emergence of...

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