G.H. Mead's Understanding of the Nature of Speech in the Light of Contemporary Research


The following analysis demonstrates that G.H. Mead's understanding of human speech is remarkably consistent with today's interdisciplinary field that studies speech as a natural behavior with an evolutionary history. Mead seems to have captured major empirical and theoretical insights more than half a century before the contemporary field began to take shape. In that field the framework known as “Tinbergen's Four Questions,” developed in ecology to study naturally occurring behavior in nonhuman animals, has been an effective organizing framework for research on human speech. It is used in this paper to organize the comparison of Mead with contemporary scholars. The analysis concludes that Mead was, in a sense, “beyond” the Four Questions by recognizing the limitations of reductionist methods in understanding the nature of conscious phenomena, especially language. Mead's socially situated model of the nature of human speech makes him relevant to today's field where some see an undervaluation of the treatment of language as a social process

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