The Social Origins of Language

Edited by Daniel Dor, Chris Knight and Jerome Lewis

Published in print June 2014 | ISBN: 9780199665327
Published online August 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780191779725 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in the Evolution of Language

The Social Origins of Language

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  • Sociolinguistics
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Whereas Noam Chomsky views language as an internal faculty fitted to the requirements of private thought, this volume views it as designed essentially for communication between two or more speakers. In language, we formulate our thoughts for others and hence for ourselves. The system, in its diverse forms, resides and develops at the level of the community, and is acquired by individuals as part of their socialization. Focusing on language in its proper social context, we argue, allows for a new understanding of its origins, since it highlights the key role of social and cultural relationships in driving language evolution. It suggests that our pre-linguistic ancestors may have already had significant linguistic potential, but remained blocked from collaboratively constructing actual languages owing to conflict-ridden, mistrustful social conditions. If this was the problem, language’s evolutionary emergence would have required profound social and political change, more trusting, stable relationships enhancing the chances of cultural innovations being preserved and transmitted, leading eventually to the cumulative construction, grammaticalization, and historical diversification of stable linguistic traditions as we know them today.

Keywords: social context; protolanguage; evolutionarily stable strategies; evo-devo; niche construction; grammaticalization; communication technology; agent-based modelling; primate communication; reliable signals

Book.  464 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Sociolinguistics ; Psycholinguistics

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Signal evolution and the social brain in The Social Origins of Language


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