lu.se

Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

From Experience to Imagination:The Origin and Evolution of Language As a Communication Technology

In this talk, I will present a new general hypothesis concerning the origin and evolutionary development of human language and its speakers.
The hypothesis is based on the theory of language I develop in Dor (2015), and I will begin my talk with an exposition of the essential claim: language should be properly understood as a social communication technology of a very particular type, collectively constructed for the specific function of the instruction of imagination. All the other systems of intentional communication, used by humans and other species, work with what I call the experiential strategy: they provide materials for the interlocutors to experience with their senses and thus allow for the actual sharing of experience. Language is the only system that goes beyond the sharing of experience. It allows speakers to intentionally and systematically instruct their interlocutors in the process of imagining the intended experience - instead of directly experiencing it.
Then, I will claim that ancient humans (most probably homo Erectus) developed their culture and their pre-linguistic communication to the point where the collective invention of language became both necessary and possible. The moment of the origin of language consisted of no more than exploratory attempts to use what had already been achieved to go beyond the experiential strategy – into the realm of the instruction of imagination. When the new function began to show its potential, a developmental process was launched that was directly driven throughout by the constant pressure to raise the levels of collective success in instructive communication. Throughout the process, individuals were selected for their ability to meet the challenges of the emerging technology, and the required capacities were (partially and variably) genetically accommodated. Homo Sapiens, an imaginative species adapted for fast speech, and maybe our sisters species too, eventually emerged from the collectively-driven process with unique adaptations to language. The evolutionary hypothesis thus shows exceptionally high levels of developmental determinism: if we agree to position the instruction of imagination at the center of the story, we find that much of the way languages are today, and much of the way we are today, was already there, as functional potential, at the moment of origin.
Dor, Daniel (2015). The Instruction of Imagination: Language as a Social Communication Technology, Oxford University Press.