Growth points from the very beginning

In M. Arbib D. Bickerton (ed.), The Emergence of Protolanguage: Holophrasis Vs Compositionality. John Benjamins. pp. 117-132 (2010)

Abstract

Did protolanguage users use discrete words that referred to objects, actions, locations, etc., and then, at some point, combine them; or on the contrary did they have words that globally indexed whole semantic complexes, and then come to divide them? Our answer is: early humans were forming language units consisting of global and discrete dimensions of semiosis in dynamic opposition. These units of thinking-for-speaking, or ‘growth points’ (GPs) were, jointly, analog imagery (visuo-spatio-motoric) and categorically-contrastive (-emic) linguistic encodings. This discrete-global duality was a new mode of embodied cognition that enabled thinking and acting in new ways: the dawn of protolanguage. Where did this mode of cognition come from? We have some suggestions based on the hypothesis that gestures gained the power to orchestrate actions, manual and vocal, with significances other than those of the actions themselves, giving rise to cognition framed in the proposed dual terms. Note, however, our proposal is not one of the ‘gesture-first’ theories of language origins. Such theories predict what did not evolve: a language of pantomime; rather than what did evolve: an integrated system of synchronized gestures and spoken forms. GP theory is an account of the cognition underlying such an integrated system. A scenario for the evolutionary selection of this cognitive mode is ‘Mead’s Loop’, a model in which one’s cognition is enriched by one’s own gestures, insofar as they are objects in social interactions.

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Shaun Gallagher
University of Memphis

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