From metonymy to syntax in the communication of events

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A modular analysis of spontaneous language use provides support for the existence of an identifiable step in language evolution, protolanguage. Our suggestion is that a grammarless form of expression would have evolved to signal unexpected events, a behavior still prevalent in our species. Words could not be so specific as to refer to whole, non-recurring, situations. They referred to elements such as objects or locations, and the communicated event was inferred metonymically. Compositionality was achieved, without syntax, through multi-metonymy, as words referring to elements of the same situation were concatenated into proto-utterances.


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