This page is an attempt at describing a metamodel of language origins. It is intended to be a topic for discussion and not a definitive map of how language evolved. The route to language given here illustrates how a comprehensive theory of language origins could be structured, not how language actually originated.
The approach used in this model is cognitivist, so the proposal makes certain basic assumptions. All of these assumptions are disputed, so it is important to make them explicit:
The model shows a series of capacities, given in a rough order and with dependencies indicated. A timescale is not indicated, but the capacities are colour-
These species allocations are arbitrary and open to dispute.
This model should be viewed as a hypothesis (or, to be more accurate, a hypothesis about a hypothesis), and criticisms and suggestions for improvement are most welcome. If this project is of interest, or if you have any thoughts about it, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss it further.
Complex sound as a costly signal
Humans seem to value aspects of sound which are not directly linguistic, e.g. musicality and rhythm.
The capacity to imitate animal calls gives a hunting advantage, but it also allows a mapping between sounds and objects. The sound that “calls” the animal also represents the animal.
Humans suppress alpha behaviours, and we value, and promote, co-
This involves willingness to offer information and willingness to accept information.
What is being trusted is the message-
Teaching and learning of skills
Skills do not disappear when individuals die.
individuals must be willing to spend time teaching and learning skills.
Sharing of Models
At some stage we became willing and able to share our internal social models.
Protolanguage 1 is extended, swiftly leading to the following three stages.
Affective Teaching and Learning
Sharing social models allows the sharers to enhance their own social knowledge.
Rhesus macaques can perform simple arithmetic using symbols for numbers. Arithmetic involves nesting values inside other values.
Awareness of Receiver
Sent models can contain models of the receiver.
The knowledge the receiver has of themself is different to their knowledge of others.
Awareness of Self
Received models of others can contain models of me.
To incorporate these models I must be able to produce a model of self-
Recursive Social Cognition
Recognition of Receiver
It is useful to the sender to recognise when the receiver is modelled in utterance, because the receiver knows about their own relationships.
“You” is a privileged “they”.
Awareness of Absence
Sent models refer to individuals not by direct deixis but by agreed referential names.
So there is no need for the referred-
Awareness of Non-
Absent reference means models do not need to be current. For deniability, it becomes useful to place the models being offered in relation to the present.
Complex Language 1
Tools for killing animals can also be used to kill rivals. Alpha behaviours can be penalised by alliances or even individual action.
The capacity to produce complex streams of sounds is a sign of cognitive complexity, and may even be an indicator of other types of dexterity.
Social models need a two-
If it is mono-
Received models of others may be deceptive or mistaken, so it is useful to tag them by source
Modelling emotional relationships between others as abstracts; Modelling abstract entities stripped of my own emotions.
Using others as tools allows me to recruit the muscles of others to do work for me. I need to track my relationships with others.
Tools are indirect objects, means to ends rather than ends themselves.
Linear Social Cognition
Baboons model a linear hierarchy of individual dominance, and the dominance hierarchy between families.
Joint Attention & Deixis
Being able to pay attention to the same thing allows people to focus attention outward.
Joint ventures let individuals cooperate for mutual gain. Individuals need to model their volatile relationships with others in detail.
“Infinite employment of finite means”
(Wilhelm von Humboldt)
Projection of Self
Awareness of Own Reputation
Awareness of Future Modality
By combining past temporality and modality, representation of models which have not yet happened becomes possible
Negotiation to Meaning
The sharing of simple grammatical utterances begins a process leading to negotiation to meaning through utterance form as well as lexis.
Naming for attention; Manding, Imperatives; Stating, Declaratives; Coordinating, Interrogatives; Agreement and Negation; Simple semanticity (concrete terms)
Mapping meanings to sound allows conventional naming and a new way of exchanging ideas.
It also allows negotiation to lexical meaning.
Humans are aware of equity, and we value, and pay attention to, sharing. We are willing to altruistically punish unfair sharers.
Bipedality allowed greater control over breathing, as well as freeing the hands for tool use
The meaning in signalling is no longer just the meaning of the signal. The intentions of the receiver are accommodated in the signal by the sender, and the intentions of the sender are read into the signal by the receiver.