Embodied Pragmatics and the Evolution of Language
In the evolutionary theory, a central tenet is that complex forms evolved from simpler ones, according to a bottom-up process. When it comes to the evolution of language, however, a bottom-up approach is problematic. In this case, such an approach often assumes that minimal units that are inflexibly associated to their meaning come first, where the wider discourse is only a later product. In the present paper, I shall argue that we need to assume a top-down perspective on language evolution, which claims that the wider discourse is the evolutionary starting point rather than the final achievement. This approach involves the necessity to focus on the pragmatic abilities of our ancestors and on the biological mechanisms underlying them. Combining a top-down model of language evolution with an embodied account of cognition, I shall argue that a basic mechanism of affordance perception supports core pragmatic processes by enabling the individual to determine not only her own action possibilities in the physical environment but also the action possibilities of others and, thereby, enabling her to determine other people’s intentions. As a result, I shall introduce the notion of an embodied pragmatics as a key to account for the evolution of language.
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