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The Evolution of Language: Towards Gestural Hypotheses

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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 6 The Problem of Modality Transition in Gestural Primacy Hypothesis

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In the final part of our work, we propose a study devoted to a specific problem in the field of language evolution, which is associated with the gestural primacy hypothesis. In this chapter, we present a summary of a wide range of arguments currently advanced for and against this position, supplying them with commentary and our own arguments. In addition to familiarising the reader with the details of this interesting proposal, this chapter will serve as an illustration of how research is conducted in the modern-day evolution of language.

The gestural primacy hypothesis, or simply the gestural hypothesis, occupies a central position in current reflections on the appearance and evolution of linguistic abilities. According to these theories, language phylogenetically derives from a gestural communication system, not a vocal one (the latter possibility is more intuitive, and hence many authors erroneously claim the vocal proposal to be unproblematic). We propose a wide definition of gestures here, including most of bodily signals produced or received in the visual modality. Many studies on this subject point to their fundamental problem: if language was originally gestural, why, when and how did the change or the transition of language to the vocal modality occur? So far, this problem has not found a satisfactory solution. In this chapter, firstly, we bring the topic closer to the reader, briefly discussing the arguments for gestural hypotheses, and secondly, we propose solutions to the problem of the modality transition. In essence, they boil down to...

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