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Butterfill, Origins of mind 2013) ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE: a problematic overview Lorenzo Serini How do humans come to use language? How do humans come to know about words? Which is the relationship between language and thought? These questions of language origins were asked for thousands of years by poets, philosophers, theologians, historians, anthropologists, psychologists and linguistics and they still haven't found an ultimate answer. n this work want to give a brief and an introductive account of the status of this inquiries in cognitive developmental and in cognitive linguistics. 0. Introduction The issue of language is as important as e tended! indeed, language pla" a so #ru#ial role in human e perien#e of the $orld that sometimes one might sa" that it #hara#terizes the $hole human life.1 To delimit the huge %uestions of the origins language, & $ant to fo#us on three parti#ular aspe#ts of the pro'lem( language a#%uisition (paragraph one), ho$ #hildren learn language (paragraph t$o) and relation of language to thought and #ognition (paragraph three). . Lan!ua!e ac"ui#ition )o$ humans #ome from an initial zero state (S 0), $hen the infant is not a'le to use language, to a *no$ledge state (S*), $hen the adult is a'le to full" use language+ ,lthough #hildren ha-en.t #ompletel" de-eloped their #ogniti-e a'ilit", the" are a'le to learn the #omple s"stem of language -er" %ui#*l"! surprisingl", a #hild in fe$ "ears a#%uire $hat humans a#%uired in eras of e-olution and in thousands "ears of natural languages formation. )o$ is that possi'le (/esser 2000, p. 130)+ 1ogniti-e theories tr" to ans$er to this %uestion in se-eral $a"s that #an 'e, helpfull", grouped in three main #ategories( !nvironmental theories( ,##ording to en-ironmental theories, or learning theories, infants $ere 'orn $ith e-er" to learn so that #hildren a#%uire language, li*e their other 'eha-iours, from the surrounding en-ironment. 2arti#ularl", 'hea-ourist ps"#hologists suggest that #hildren a#%uire language *no$ledge learning through the e perien#e( imitating adults spee#h and reinforcing 3 step '" step 3 their a'ilities. This shaping progress graduall" de-elops and 'rings the #hildren to a#%uire full" the use of language. )o$e-er, en-ironmental theories do not #ompletel" and #arefull" e plain ho$ #hildren #an learn so %ui#*l" and $h" man" different en-ironment do not produ#e man" different and signifi#ant -ariations on grammar a#%uisition. /ore o-er is to 'e sho$n ho$ language #reati-it" #ould arise form an imitating pro#ess of learning.

1 See the ,ristotelian definition of the human 'eing as .rational animal. (z4on logihi*4n)( $hat distinguishes humans form animals $ould 'e, pre#isel", the a'ilit" to use language and to ma*e rational pro5e#ts.

"ativist theories( 6ati-ist theorists argue that the a'ilit" to a#%uire language is an innate propriet" of the mind! in fa#t, the stimulus of the surrounding en-ironment $ould 'e not suffi#ient to support the #omple *no$ledge of language. &ndeed, #hildren #an learn this #omple s"stem of language onl" if the" are 'orn $ith this *no$ledge and are pre7programmed for learning language apart from the en-ironment in $hi#h the" gro$ up. One of the most influential supporter of the nati-isti# -ie$ is 6oam 1homs*", $ho argues that onl" an innate and uni-ersal language *no$ledge #an e plain #hildren language a#%uisition. 8i-en that all human languages share some features (i.e. nouns and -er's) and that the pro#ess of language a#%uisition is similar in all #ultures, he suggests the presen#e in the human mind of a .uni-ersal grammar. and of an innate me#hanism #alled .Language ,#%uisition 9e-i#e. (L,9), a s"stem of prin#iples $hi#h role our language *no$ledge from our 'orn (1oo* 1::2, pp. ;;7;<).2 This not en-ironmental a#%uisition of language s*ills seems to 'e #onfirmed '" studies of language a#%uisition in deaf #hildren! deaf #hildren seem to learn sign language in similar stages as #hildren learning spo*en language. 9eaf #hildren, $ho had not 'een taught sign language, learnt ho$ to #ommuni#ate 3 in this reall" poor learning en-ironment 3 '" using, at firs, simple sing that 'e#ame al$a"s more #omple (8oldin7/eado$ 200;! Senghas and 1oppola 2001). )o$e-er, nati-isti# a##ount of language a#%uisition, fo#using onl" on the innate me#hanism of mind, #ompletel" ignores the role and the importan#e of en-ironment for language a'ilities( for instan#e, the so#ial intera#tion that appear to 'e largel" rele-ant for the emerging of language needs and s*ills. #ocial interactionists theories( &f the en-ironment (learning) h"pothesis loo* out for the importan#e of stimuli from the en-ironment, on the other hand the nati-ist theories fo#us on the preeminen#e of the me#hanism of mind. &n #ontrast to the nati-isti# -ie$, so#ial intera#tionists theories 'elie-e that language s*ills are a#%uired '" intera#ting $ith other. 8i-ing spe#ial attention to the so#ial nature of language, ho$e-er, intera#tionists are not a'le to a##ount #learl" $h" different *ind of so#ial intera#tions do not impl" rele-ant differen#es in grammar a#%uisition. $. Lan!ua!e development in c%ildren ,fter this o-er-ie$ of theories on language a#%uisition, it appears ne#essar" to see, #on#retel", ho$ #hildren learn and de-elop language a'ilities. ,s seen, ne-ertheless man" 'iologi#al, so#ial and #ultural di-ersities, it seems that all #hildren learn language, appro imatel", in the same pro#ess in a #ertain
2 &n order to #larif" notions as .6ati-ism. and .&nnate. and to #he#* their usefulness in #ogniti-e s#ien#e, see Samuels =. (200>), &nnateness in #ogniti-e s#ien#e. T$!"%# in cognitive science, 0(3), pp. 13?71>1.

num'er of stages. Three main stages ha-e 'een identified( pre7linguisti# stage, one7$ord stage, de-elopment of grammar, understanding of $ord7meaning. &re'linguistic stage (about from birth to )* months old+ ( &n this first earl" stage, infants are not a'le to use language 'ut the" are reall" sensiti-e to sounds! from the 'irth the" listen and 'e#ome familiar to parents. spee#h as the" #ould listen a *ind of musi#. )o$e-er, it.s around 0 months old that infants #an re#ognise parents. sounds as nati-e language! in fa#t, onl" around this age 'a'ies start to prefer their o$n nati-e language to another language sounds. B" : moths infants #ome to re#ognise $ords and stru#tures of their nati-e language, 'efore the" are a'le to produ#e (re7produ#e) them (8oldin7/edo$ 200;! Bee 2000). =e#ognising $ords tas* ma" 'e more diffi#ult than $e usuall" thin*( ho$ #an infants (as $ell as adult humans) re#ognise a $ord from a sound+ @or instan#e, $hen $e listen to a spea*er $ho is spea*ing an unfamiliar language, $e #annot understand him 'e#ause $e are not a'le, at all, to distinguish $ords in sound. To 'e a'le to re#ognise a $ord $e ha-e to tra#* $ord 'oundaries and separate a $ord from another in the spee#h. ,nal"zing the sound of a spee#h signal in a $a-e form, $e #an see e a#tl" $hat $e per#ei-e '" our auditi-e sensor" s"stem( the sound stimuli are not useful to distinguish $ords 'oundaries (@ig. 1).

(@igure1. The sound $a-e form of a spee#h sho$s the $a-e length in time in 7 a is and the sound intensit" in "7a is).

The $ords seem not to 'e part of the signal $e per#ei-e, so $here do the" #ome from+ This age (from : to 10 months) is #ru#ial for de-eloping per#eption of $ord 'oundaries and a#%uiring important language a'ilities. ,s dis#ussed 'elo$ there are se-eral theories that tr" to a##ount this pro'lem and the %uestion is still not resol-ed. &ndeed, on the one hand it seems that the mind impose the $ord to the signal, 'ut on the other hand $e are a'le to per#ei-e $ord 'oundaries in $a"s that depend on the language $e ha-e learned. &t might 'e useful, in order to $ell understand this issue, #omparing per#eption of $ords 'oundaries to per#eption of a geometri#al figure (@ig. 2).

(@igure 2. There is or there is not a triangle+)

Li*el" in the $a-e form figure (@ig.1) $e #ouldn.t distinguish $ords 'oundaries from the mere input, in this figure (@ig.2) there is not a #ompletel" dra$n triangle 'ut $e #an an"$a" re#ognise the triangle form. ,lthough the analog" seems to $or* and the $ords 'oundaries per#eption as the triangle form per#eption seems to #ome from some me#hanism of the mind, the $ords7 re#ognising a'ilit", $hi#h has 'een de-eloped in this age, must 'e, someho$, lin*ed to the en-ironment and the so#ial intera#tion. ,ne'word stage (about from )* months old )- months+ ( ,fter a period of listening and 'a''ling, #hildren start to use $ords the" ha-e learnt. ,t first #hildren, de-elop the use of a single $ord to refer to a single o'5e#t of their needs or to e press a #omple idea (holophrasis). Then, from 1? and 10 months, #hildren start to learn ne$ $ords and mu#h more rapidl". %evelopment of grammar (about from )- to ./ months+( @rom a'out 10 months #hildren #ontinue to in#rease their -o#a'ular" and start to #om'ine the $ords in strings and senten#es. Lin*ing more $ords in senten#es the" #ome soon to de-elop grammati#al roles of ho$ to #om'ine $ords (s"nta ). B" using and mista*ing rules #hildren a#%uire grammar and 'e#ome a'le to #reate more #omple and meaningful phrases. (8oldin7/edo$ 200;! O$ens 200;).3 0nderstanding of word meaning( )o$ do #hildren learn that a sound, a 'ounded $ord, refer to an o'5e#t or to an a#tion+ )o$ do #hildren #ome to *no$ the meaning of a sound7$ord+ )o$ #an #hildren understand that the $ord is not onl" for the present o'5e#t or a#tion 'ut stands for a general #lass of o'5e#ts or a#tions+ @or instan#e, ho$ #an a #hildren understand that the sound7$ord .dog. refers to the dog, the animal she is $at#hing instead of to a part of the animal or an a#tion, and ho$ #an the" understand that the sound7$ord .dog. stand not onl" for this dog that the" are $at#hing 'ut also for other different dogs that the" sa$ and that the" $ill see+ These %uestions lead to a further issue( the relation 'et$een #ognition and language de-elopment. ,lthough a definite ans$er has not 'een found, it seems that the emerge of the understanding of the $ord meaning de-elopment must follo$ some prin#iples. O$ens (200;)
3 &n a famous e periment Ber*o (1:;0) test #hildren a'ilit" to use grammar rules( a pi#ture of a fi#tional #reature named .$ug. is sho$n to #hildren $ho are told .this is a $ug.. Then a pi#ture of t$o #reatures is sho$n and #hildren are as*ed .+ here are t$o...+.. The #hildren response '" sa"ing .$ugs..

suggests that, firstl", #hildren understand that a $ord refers to thin*s, (the $ord .dog. refers to the animal and not to another o'5e#t). Se#ondl", the" #ome to understand that a $ord do not refer onl" to a uni%ue o'5e#t (this dog the" are $at#hing) 'ut to a #lass of o'5e#ts (the $ord .dog. refers to all dogs and not onl" to one dog). Thirdl", #hildren understand that the $ord refers to a thin* as a $hole of its #onstituent parts and not onl" to a part (the $ord .dog. sta" for the animal $ith its legs and tail and not to its legs or tail). Thus, the $ords that refers to the parts are learnt later in the de-elopment of #hildren language. ,s things stand, learning the stru#ture of the language, #hildren de-elop the understanding of $ord meaning and a#%uire the #apa#it" to refer that stru#ture to the $orld. &. '%e world t%rou!% word# The understanding of $ord meaning imposes another important issue( .Ano$ledge of $ords and *no$ledge of the $orld must someho$ 'e lin*ed. Bords e-o*e *no$ledge a'out the $orld, and thoughts a'out the $orld are #on-e"ed through $ords. (Bar'ara 1. /alt and 2hillip Bolff 2010, p. 2:). The $orld #onsists of a huge -ariet" of stimuli that $e manage and translate into a $ord and into its meaning. Therefore, naming a'ilit" must 'e deepl" related to the #ogniti-e #apa#it" of the human mind, namel", to the $a" $e per#ei-e and thin* a'out the $orld. 8i-en that, it is ne#essar" to understand the role of language in #ognition and this is, e a#tl", the hearth of #ogniti-e linguisti#s. Bhat happens along the $a" that goes from stimuli to language+ 9oes language influen#e the $a" $e thin* the $orld or -i#e-ersa thought determine language+ Three stages of the #ognition of natural phenomena ha-e 'een, usuall", identified( #election of stimuli. Onl" fe$ stimuli attra#t our attention and are per#ei-ed '" our sensor" s"stem (-isual, auditi-e, ta#tile, olfa#tor"). dentification and classification. &ntera#tion 'et$een sele#ted stimuli and our *no$ledge (the *no$ledge stored in our memor"). "aming. /ost identified and #lassified (and so #ategorized) stimuli are gi-en names $hile some remain unla'elled, e.g .things to eat on a diet., .things to pa#* in a suit#ase.. (@. Cngerer D ).7E. S#hmid 1::?, p. ?) ,##ording to these, it seems that the naming stage #omes late in the pro#ess of #ognition! indeed, language $ould depend on thought and $ould 'e determined '" our #ategorization of the stimuli( 5

firstl", $e per#ei-e the $orld and, se#ondl", $e $ould 'e a'le to la'el the #ategorized stimuli into a $ord. Studies of #hild de-elopment led '" 2iaget suggests that language #annot 'e used until #hildren has a#%uired the appropriate #on#ept( #hildren must understand a #on#ept 'efore using language a'out this #on#ept. 1on-ersel", others thin* that language pla" an a#ti-e role in #ognition. There are, on the one hand, #ases in $hi#h #hildren $ith #ogniti-e diffi#ulties are a'le to use language, > on the other hand, there are man" e-iden#es that support the influen#e of language on thought. ,lthough the famous Sapir (1:2:) 7 Bhorf (1:;?) h"pothesis that language determines thought (spea*ers of a parti#ular language $ould thin*, per#ei-e and remem'er the $orld in different $a"s a##ordingl" to that language) has 'een #riti#ized and it #annot 'e maintained, man" #ogniti-e studies fo#uses on a lighter linguisti# relati-it" h"pothesis (L=)) of the influen#es of language on thought. ,##ording to this -ie$, it seems that language influen#es thought, in parti#ular memor" and per#eption! it remains diffi#ult, an"$a", to %uantif" pre#isel" the real effe#t of language on #ognition. @or instan#e, some e periments on the relation 'et$een language and memor" (1armi#hael et al. 1:32) underlined that, effe#ti-el", language effe#ts memor"! in a re#ognizing tas* o'5e#ts la'elled $ith a $ord had 'een more su##essfull" re#ognized and remem'ered than unla'eled ones. &nteresting studies on the L=) #onsider the importan#e of #olours per#eption and #olours #ategorization in #ogniti-e linguisti#s( does language influen#es the $a" $e per#ei-e #olour+ 1olour terms differ enormousl" 'et$een different languages and #ultures! for e ample, the Funi language has onl" one $ord for the "ello$7orange #olours $hen the Gnglish has t$o "ello$ and orange, indeed. &n #olours re#ognizing tas* Funi spea*ers ma*e more mista*es than Gnglish spea*ers in distinguishing "ello$ and oranges #hips. Therefore, this seems to suggest that language effe#ts per#eption of #olour (Bro$n and Lenne'erg 1:;>). ,s things stand, one might suppose that the nature of #olour #ategories is ar'itrar" e deepl" dependent '" language. )o$e-er, other studies in #olour per#eption #hallenge the L=)! in parti#ular, Berlin and Aa" (1:?:) stud" on .fo#al #olours.. 1omparing ninet"7eight different languages, Berlin and Aa" found that, in spite of the differen#es of terms used, all the spea*ers, $hen are as*ed to #hoose the #hip that 'est represent the #olour term, surprisingl", pi#* out the same ele-en #olours( the .fo#al #olours.. Thus, the results of this e periment suggest that there are uni-ersal #olour #ategories unaffe#ted '" language. So, if on the one hand #olour #ategorization appears to 'e an#hored in fo#al #olours shared '" different languages and to 'e independent of language, on the other hand, language influen#es some aspe#ts of memor" and, slightl", some aspe#t of #olour per#eption! the 'oundaries of #olour #ategories, indeed, -ar" 'et$een different languages and e-en 'et$een spea*ers of one language. (I(LIOGRA)*+
> See the #ase .Laura. studied '" Hamanda (1::0).

Bee, ). (2000), The developing child (:th edn), 6e$ Hor*. Longman. Ber*o, E. (1:;0), The #hild.s learning of Gnglish morphologh". Word, 1>, pp. 1;071<<. Berlin, B. and Aa", 2. (1:?:). 1asic colour terms2 their universality and evolution . Ber*ele", 1alif.( Cni-ersit" of 1alifornia 2ress. Bro$n, =. and Lenne'erg, G.). (1:;>), , stud" in language and #ognition. 3ournal of abnormal anch clinical psychology, >:, pp. >;>7>?2. 1arlmi#hael, L. D )ogan, ). 2. D Balter, ,. , (1:32), ,n e perimental stud" of the effe#t of language on the reprodu#tion of -isuall" per#ei-ed form. 3ournal of e4perimental psychology , 1;(1), pp. <370?. 1oo*, I. E. (1::2), 5homsky's universal grammar (third edn), O ford CA and 1am'ridge CS,( Bla#*$ell. 8oldin7/eado$ S. (200;), The reliance of language (se#ond edn), 6e$ Horl( 2s"#holog" 2ress. Lund, 6. (2003), 6anguage and thought, London and 6e$ Hor*( =outledge. /alt, 1. B. D Bolff, 2. (2010), Words and the mind, O ford and 6e$ Hor*( O ford Cni-ersit" 2ress. /esser, 9. (2000). State of art( language a#%uisition. The psychologist, 13, 13071>3. O$ens, =. G. (200;), 6anguage development2 an introduction (?h edn), 6eedham )eights, /ass( ,ll"n and Ba#on. Senghas, ,. D 1oppola, /. (2001), 1hildren #reating language( ho$ 6i#araguan sign language a#%uired a spatial grammar. &sychological #cience, 12(>), 3237320. Cngerer @. D S#hmid ).7E. (1::?), 7n introduction to cognitive linguistics , London and 6e$ Hor*( Longman. Hamanda, E.G. (1::0) 6aura2 a case for the modularity of language . 1am'ridge, /ass.( /&T 2ress.