Edited by Claire Lefebvre, Bernard Comrie and Henri Cohen
[Studies in Language Companion Series 144] 2013
► pp. 407–440
Arbitrary signs and the emergence of language
The question of the origin of language is difficult to answer since language is involved in a complex way in all human activities. Yet it can be answered if we concentrate on the design properties of the linguistic sign and how they relate to recently discovered properties that are unique to the human brain. Human language is the result of a cascade of consequences from a suite of minute neurological changes that give some human neuronal systems a new “representational” capacity. These changes make sense in evolution, and there is empirical evidence for them. These uniquely human systems of neurons have the capacity to operate offline for input as well as output (Hurley 2008): they can be triggered not only by external events stimulating our perceptual systems but also by brain-internal events; they can also be activated while inhibiting output to any external (motoric) system. These Offline Brain Systems are not specifically designed for language but they provide the crucial property that made it possible for further innovations to occur that led to language; they coincidentally allowed mental states corresponding to elements of the perceptual and conceptual substances of language to meet in our brains to form Saussurean signs. Recursivity derives from the self-organization triggered by the chaotic system that emerged, and required no innovation in the human lineage. Keywords: Offline neuronal systems; Saussurean signs; self-organization; recursivity
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