The origins of meaning

James R. Hurford

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 The origins of meaning

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Semantics


Show Summary Details


Researches in language evolution have presented some continuity between apes and humans. Researchers have shown that precursors to both sentence meaning (conceptual meaning) and speaker meaning (pragmatic meaning) are present in animals. They have also reported that something other than the ability to comprehend such meanings was necessary to launch language, perhaps shared intentions, and once language was launched it resulted in abilities to create new kinds of meanings. A phenomenon extensively researched in both developmental and comparative psychology is object permanence. There are two forms of the object permanence test, one harder than the other. The easier test, the visible object permanence test, involves simply moving an object, such as a treat, behind a screen, where it is invisible to the animal or child subject, restraining the subject briefly, and then seeing if the subject moves to retrieve the object from behind the screen. The harder test, the invisible object permanence test, involves placing the treat into a small container in view of the subject, then the container is hidden behind the screen, where it is emptied out unseen by the subject and the empty container is then shown to the subject, who passes the test if he/she searches behind the screen. The episodic memory is related to object permanence. This is a kind of memory for specific events that have happened to the individual subject.

Keywords: sentence meaning; pragmatic meaning; object permanence; episodic memory; language evolution

Article.  5278 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Semantics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.