Article published in:The Emergence of Protolanguage: Holophrasis vs compositionality
Edited by Michael A. Arbib and Derek Bickerton
[Benjamins Current Topics 24] 2010
► pp. 35–50
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.
Published online: 03 September 2010