Chapter

The role of gesture and mimetic representation in making language the province of speech

Susan Goldin-Meadow and David McNeill

in The Descent of Mind

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780192632593
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191670497 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780192632593.003.0009
The role of gesture and mimetic representation in making language the province of speech

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This chapter argues that oral modality assumed the segmented and combinatorial code not because of its strengths but to compensate for its weakness. The oral modality is not well suited to conveying messages mimetically, even though that function is also important to human language. This function is, however, very well served by the manual modality. The manual modality consequently assumes the role of mimetic encoding, in the form of spontaneous gestures found to accompany speech in all cultures, leaving segmented and combinatorial encoding by default to speech. This argument rests on several assumptions. The first is that the manual modality is as adept as the oral modality at segmented and combinatorial encoding. The second assumption is that mimetic encoding is an important aspect of human communication, well served by the manual modality. In addition, the chapter discusses the role that gesture might have played in linguistic evolution.

Keywords: oral modality; combinatorial code; mimetic encoding; gestures; speech; human communication; language; evolution

Chapter.  9284 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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