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Gesture and Speech: André Leroi-Gourhan’s theory of the co-evolution of manual and intellectual activities

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Abstract:

The role of gesture in Leroi-Gourhan’s theory of the origin of language is portrayed in its historical context and in view of recent research to allow a balanced appraisal of his contribution to the debate. Written in the mid-1960s, his Gesture and Speech offers a vivid contrast to Chomsky’s contemporary mentalist view of language that espoused Cartesian rationalism with its barriers between man and beast, and between body and mind. On the contrary, Leroi-Gourhan takes an integrated approach to human evolution: gesture (conceived of as ‘material action’) and speech are seen as twin products of an embodied mind that engendered our technical and social achievements. His explanation of the evolutionary association between the hand and the face provides a biological basis for cognitive as well as communicational aspects of gesture, with culture emerging as an extension of our zoological foundation. He asserts that the liberating of the hand from locomotion led to the liberating of the face from prehension, thus creating the duality of instrument and symbol whereby human beings physically and mentally grasp the world in which they live.

Keywords: gesture; human evolution; manual action; mind; paleontology; speech

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1075/gest.3.1.04cop

Affiliations: Free University, Berlin

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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