Date: Friday, Jan. 27
Time: 7–8:30 pm (reception to follow)
Location: Health Sciences Building Room 1150, 107 Wiggins Rd., Saskatoon
Free and open to the public
About this event
Hosted by the University of Saskatchewan Department of Philosophy
Origins of Meaning
by Dr. Dorit Bar-On (PhD)
Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Connecticut
One of Darwin’s most vocal and persistent opponents, Friedrich Max Müller, famously claimed that “Language is the Rubicon which divides man from beast, and no animal will ever cross it.” This poses the following challenge for our understanding of the evolution of language:
Given the vast differences we see between human language and animal communication systems, how could meaningful speech have evolved from such systems?
Darwin himself suggested that the transition from animal sounds and gestures to language would require “unusual wisdom” and intentions to communicate. This is the core of what I will refer to as the communicative-intentions approach to language and language evolution. After explaining this approach, I will motivate a different approach, which focuses on a kind of communication that we share with existing nonhuman animals: namely, expressive communication. My main purpose will be to argue that expressive behavior, and the kind of communication it affords, exhibit features that foreshadow significant aspects of linguistic communication, quite apart from the presence of communicative intentions or ingenious insight. This is not to say that animal communication as we know it already is language. It is just to say that, if we understand certain forms of animal communication systems properly, we can gain better (and more realistic) understanding of what it would have taken – evolutionarily speaking – to get from animal communication to language.