INS Topical Seminar – Adrien Meguerditchian (LPC, Marseille)
“On the gestural origins of language: Communication in primates & hemispheric specialization of the brain.”
Given the phylogenetical proximity between human and nonhuman primates, research on the communicative, motor and cognitive systems of our primate cousins could help us determining the prerequisites of some language properties inherited from our common ancestor. Whereas some researchers have suggested that language resulted from the evolution of the vocal system, this theory is now challenged by a growing number of authors supporting the “gestural origins” view. Such an alternative theory underlies the fundamental role of gestural communication in the first phylogenetic roots of language.
Such a gestural theory finds support in the considerable evidence of tight links between language organization in humans and gestures including co-speech gestures, sign language in deaf people, and preverbal pointing gestures in infants. Moreover, research has reported potential continuities between the communicative gestural system in nonhuman primates, its lateralization and several fundamental properties of language, such as intentionality, learning flexibility, referential properties and left-hemispheric specialization of the brain. In the present communication, I will review our previous and on-going works on the gestural and vocal behaviors in nonhuman primates, laterality as well as recent findings in anatomical brain imaging in chimpanzees and baboons. I will try to demonstrate that these data in ethology, comparative psychology and neurosciences speak not only for a specific significance of communicative gestures in the course of the language evolution and its hemispheric brain specialization but also for the “bimodal” origin of language with the progressive integration of the oro-facial and vocal control into the gestural intentional system.
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