Article published in:New Perspectives on the Origins of Language
Edited by Claire Lefebvre, Bernard Comrie and Henri Cohen
[Studies in Language Companion Series 144] 2013
► pp. 279–298
Symbol grounding and the origin of language
From show to tell
Organisms’ adaptive success depends on being able to do the right thing with the right kind of thing. This is categorization. Most species can learn categories (1) by direct experience (“induction”). Only human beings can learn categories (2) by word of mouth (“instruction”). Artificial-life simulations have shown the evolutionary advantage of instruction over induction and human electrophysiology experiments have shown that these two radically different ways of acquiring categories still share some common features in our brains today. Graph-theoretic analyses reveal that dictionaries consist of a core of more concrete words that are learned earlier, by direct experience (induction); the meanings of the rest of the dictionary can be learned by definition (instruction) alone, by combining the inductively grounded core words into subject/predicate propositions with truth values. We conjecture that language began when attempts to communicate through miming became conventionalized into arbitrary sequences of shared, increasingly arbitrary category names that made it possible for members of our species to transmit new categories to one another by defining and describing them via propositions (instruction).
Published online: 21 November 2013
Cited by other publications
Vincent-Lamarre, Philippe, Alexandre Blondin Massé, Marcos Lopes, Mélanie Lord, Odile Marcotte & Stevan Harnad
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