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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 3 The Evolution of Language:


A Departure from Glottogenetic Scenarios

We study evolution to understand the present as much as the past, about which we shall be forever uncertain.

Michael Studdert-Kennedy (2005: 12)

The short answer to the question of How the Brain Got Language is “through biological and cultural evolution.” The challenge is to be more specific.

Michael Arbib (2013: 107)

Is language the most important trait the Homo species has evolved? The emergence of linguistic communication was certainly a milestone: Darwin (1871) considered language to be the greatest invention of humankind, alongside fire. Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1995) share the view that it was a major transition, equal only to such developments as the emergence of chromosomes or the cell nucleus. From a cognitive perspective, the evolutionary emergence of language probably constitutes “the hardest problem in science” (Christiansen and Kirby, 2003b). This label is both controversial and useful. The list of riddles which may contend for this title is certainly long, though Christiansen and Kirby’s intention is to underscore the second element of the phrase – to recognise the issue of the origin of language as a scientific problem. They describe a new consensus because the scientific status of the issue of the origins of language and the scientific field which investigates it – the evolution of language – became established only at the beginning of the 21st century. Language evolution is an interdisciplinary area of research comprised of different discourses that are united by...

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