Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

Pantomime Workshop September 8 2017

Przemysław Żywiczyński, Slawomir Wacewicz, Ines Adornetti, Alessandra Chiera & Francesco Ferretti

Pantomime, turn-taking and the emergence of proto-symbols

Przemysław Żywiczyński and Slawomir Wacewicz (Torun University)

Pantomime is relatively natural and universal means of communicating relatively complex content without relying on pre-established meaning conventions. This makes pantomime interesting in the context of language evolution research, leading to a number of language origins accounts that appeal to pantomime or related concepts such as bodily mimesis. Our talk will start from a discussion of the different uses of the term "pantomime" in a variety of disciplines. Then, we will discuss how pantomimes can conventionalise into a symbolic communicative system, focussing on the role of interactive mechanisms such as turn-taking.

The narrative dimension of pantomime: an evolutionary perspective

Ines Adornetti, Alessandra Chiera & Francesco Ferretti  (University Roma 3)

In this talk, we propose that the topic of language origin has to be investigated in reference to the specific way humans represent reality. Two assumptions are critical to our proposal. A first one concerns the (logical and temporal) priority of thought over language; a second assumption is related to the constraint imposed by the form of thought to the form of language. Following this twofold assumption, the first step of our argument is proving that human beings represent reality in a narrative form (Bruner 1991). The second step regards the analysis of the constraint imposed by the narrative form of thought to language: if thought has a narrative structure and language is (primarily) a communicative system used to express thoughts, then language must have a narrative structure to accomplish its function.  
In the second part, we analyze the role that the two assumptions underlying our proposal have for the topic of language origin. Specifically, our main interest concerns the analysis of the transition from the narrative forms of thought to the narrative forms of language. We propose that pantomime was the foothold allowing humans to develop their specific narrative way of communicating. Pantomime, indeed, has the necessary requirements to tell stories without language (McBride 2014; Ferretti et al. 2017; Sibierska 2017). Following the definition of pantomime provided by Zywiczynski et al. (2016), we highlight that the capacity of pantomime to represent and communicate relatively complex sequences of events without relying on pre-existing semiotic conventions makes pantomime a medium of expression of human narrative representations and a medium on which language, in the form of narrative, arose. In this sense, we adhere to the pantomime-first hypothesis recently advanced by Zlatev and colleagues (2017, in press). In line with such a hypothesis, we consider the multimodal nature of language as the result of a long evolutionary process rather than, as suggested for example by McNeill (2012), the original condition from which communication has arisen. In our view, the verbal modality has exploited the narrative scaffolding provided by pantomime: without such scaffolding, in fact, it would be impossible explaining the evolution of a narrative form of language.