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ABSTRACT. The paper is premised on the assumption of a radical gradualism in the emergence of language in opposition to catastrophe theories advocating its sudden birth. On this hypothesis, the paper argues against the view that the evolution of language has meant a loss of iconicity. Instead, I claim that while iconicity has been eliminated from the arbitrary signifier it has been retained and refined at the level of the motivated signified. In support of this claim I place imaginability at the hub of language, as the human capacity for the mental variation of perception and an indispensable component of the linguistic sign. The main vehicles of iconicity are shown to be aboutness and voice, with protosyntax functioning as a forerunner to linguistic syntax. Only once we acknowledge that language is not a symbolic system but rather a heterosemiotic hybrid, with a capacity to accommodate symbolicity, the paper concludes, will we be in a position to do justice to the emergence of language from its nonverbal precursors. pp. 90–107

Keywords: radical gradualism; iconicity; motivated signified; catastrophe theory; protosyntax; imaginability

How to cite: Ruthrof, Horst (2016), “Speculations on the Origins of Language,” Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 15: 90–107.

Received 14 February 2015 • Received in revised form 1 February 2016
Accepted 2 February 2016 • Available online 18 February 2016

HORST RUTHROF
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Murdoch University

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