Is a holistic protolanguage a plausible precursor to language?

A test case for a modern evolutionary linguistics

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If protolanguage was a holistic system where complex meanings were conveyed using unanalysed forms, there must be some process (analysis) which delivered up the elements of modern language from this system. This paper draws on evidence from computational modelling, developmental and historical linguistics and comparative psychology to evaluate the plausibility of the analysis process. While some of the criticisms levelled at analysis can be refuted using such evidence, several areas are highlighted where further evidence is required to decide key issues. More generally, the debate over the nature of protolanguage offers a framework for developing and showcasing a modern, evidence-based evolutionary linguistics.


Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2008

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  • Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems
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