Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Prehistory of Language$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199545872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545872.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 04 December 2021

Language: symbolization and beyond *

Language: symbolization and beyond *

(p.201) 11 Language: symbolization and beyond*
The Prehistory of Language

Eric Reuland

Oxford University Press

This chapter argues that it is ‘too simplistic’ to view language as primarily a symbolic system used for communication. This view leads to an interpretation of the archeological record that is ‘too naïve’. Central to this argument is the assumption that natural language is a computational system by which linguistic form and semantic interpretation are mapped systematically onto each other. The mapping is based on an inventory of lexical items and a combinatory system that includes the process known as ‘recursion’ which, roughly, has the capacity to form infinitely long sentences by embedding phrases within phrases. The introduction of this process altered the nature of linguistic signs, severing the direct connection between form and interpretation. This gave rise to desymbolization, which is the ‘most characteristic’ property of language. If this view is correct, evidence of symbolic activity by itself would not be a proper diagnostic of the presence of language.

Keywords:   language development, language capacity, communication, evolution, linguistic form, desymbolization

Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us .