AbstractOne important difference between existing accounts of protolanguage lies in their assumptions on the semantic complexity of protolinguistic utterances. I bring evidence about the nature of linguistic communication to bear on the plausibility of these assumptions, and show that communication is fundamentally inferential and characterised by semantic uncertainty. This not only allows individuals to maintain variation in linguistic representation, but also imposes a selection pressure that meanings be reconstructible from context. I argue that protolanguage utterances had varying degrees of semantic complexity, and developed into complex language gradually, through the same processes of re-analysis and analogy which still underpin continual change in modern languages.
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