Speaker: Dorit Bar-On (University of Connecticut)
Title: Protolanguage: Meaning, Structure, and Expression
Abstract: I begin by distinguishing two major approaches to the evolution of language – one pragmatic (focusing on intentional-rational use of communicative vehicles as the key innovation), the other structural (focusing on hierarchical compositional structure as the key innovation). The two approaches yield different conceptions of the character of Protolanguage – a hypothetical intermediate stage between animal communication systems (ACSs) and Human Language (HL). I discuss complementary challenges facing the two approaches. I then propose an alternative that (in a sense) straddles the two approaches. The alternative approach focuses on expressive communication of the sort found among animals and prelinguistic children, but also manifested in the mature use of human language. I argue that, contrary to a common view held by many theorists of language evolution, aspects of this type of communication can serve as potential precursors of important aspects of linguistic communication.