Protolanguage in ontogeny and phylogeny
Combining deixis and representation
We approach the issue of holophrasis versus compositionality in the emergence of protolanguage by analyzing the earliest combinatorial constructions in child, bonobo, and chimpanzee: messages consisting of one symbol combined with one gesture. Based on evidence from apes learning an interspecies visual communication system and children acquiring a first language, we conclude that the potential to combine two different kinds of semiotic element — deictic and representational — was fundamental to the protolanguage forming the foundation for the earliest human language. This is a form of compositionality, in that each communicative element stands for a single semantic element. The conclusion that human protolanguage was exclusively holophrastic — containing a proposition in a single word — emerges only if one considers the symbol alone, without taking into account the gesture as a second element comprising the total message.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2008-04-01
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