Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet


The orofacial route to multimodal theories of language origins

Slawomir Wacewicz (Torun University)

Questions related to modality have taken center stage in current language evolution research. A variety of multimodal theories of language origins have recently been proposed, which see a nontrivial role of each of the modalities – as well as their closer connection and interaction –throughout the entire process of language evolution. Historically, they can be seen as growing out of gestural theories of language origins, in a move allowing to alleviate the central problem of the latter (the so called ‘modality transition’ or ‘modality switch’ problem – the objection that gestural theories predict a signed language, whereas language in human communities across the world is predominantly spoken). Particularly interesting in this context are orofacial gestures, which are visually perceived gestures that at the same time participate in the production of vocal communicative signals; thus, they combine communicatively the modalities of vision and sound.
In my talk, I address the following points:

  • the problem of modality transition,
  • the phenomenon of orofacial gestures
  • current accounts of the role of orofacial gestures in language evolution
  • reasons why, and ways in which, orofacial gestures can be more broadly integrated with language evolution research (in particular with the multimodal hypotheses)