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Language ecology, language evolution, and the actuation question

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Abstract

I argue in this essay that from a phylogenetic perspective human languages emerged as communicative technologies responding to various ecological pressures experienced by the hominine species during its protracted evolution. The most important of these pressures were cognitive and social, notwithstanding the changing physical ecologies in which hominines have evolved and about which they have wanted to communicate. This adaptive process involved the domestication of the anatomy by the mind as it too evolved from more primitive forms to its current level of complexity and sophistication. The mind has coopted the most suitable parts of the anatomy to generate productive systems that are easy to learn, process, and adapt to the hominines’ increasing cognitive capacity to satisfy the ever-changing communicative pressures they experienced. One may also argue that, overall, human languages evolved by successive exaptations of the anatomy and of extant means of communication to produce linguistic systems that would meet current and new communicative needs at different stages of hominine evolution. However, the reader is also referred to Mufwene (2013b), where the emergence of the mechanics of the linguistic technology is explained in more detail.

References

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