Holophrasis and the protolanguage spectrum

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Much of the debate concerning the question “Was Protolanguage Holophrastic?” assumes that protolanguage existed as a single, stable transitional form between communication systems akin to those of modern primates and human languages as we know them today. The present paper argues for a spectrum of protolanguages preceding modern languages emphasizing that (i) protospeech was intertwined with protosign and gesture; (ii) grammar emerged from a growing population of constructions; and (iii) an increasing protolexicon drove the emergence of phonological structure. This framework weakens arguments for the view that the earliest protolanguages were not holophrastic while advancing the claim that protolanguages became increasingly compositional over time en route to the emergence of true languages.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/is.9.1.11arb

Publication date: April 1, 2008

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  • Social Behaviour and Communication in Biological and Artificial Systems
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