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Relations between Language and Gesture in Evolutionary Perspective

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Language is considered to be a certain complex of verbal and non-verbal means which create an embodied system that is expressed by both words and gestures. Originally, gestures have been examined within the so-called ‘mirror system’ in terms of perceiving a self-movement pattern and the movements of others. This kind of investigation is a vivid sample of the experiments that were held upon monkey species. Logically, this system is used for better consideration and recognition of how gestures are being produced and in what way people perceive speech patterns. The relevant theory that is applied here is the so-called motor theory. With the span of time, i.e. evolutionary, human speaking has become the main mode that differentiated Homo sapiens from other creatures. Nevertheless, language as a complex syntactic system appeared a little bit later and namely, approximately 2 million years ago. Additionally, in the contemporary society oral type of language is accompanied with gestures, the written forms are supported with particular visual elements concerning various texting samples, and the intermediate line is devoted to that special type of communication as the signed language of the deaf (Corballis, 2009).

Generally, language may be viewed in different forms. Thus, there are variants of spoken, written, whether it is typed or handwritten, and signed language. From the cognitive processes language is comprehended as a certain result of the human mind productivity that may be presented in various ways and, thus, perceived differently. Human beings represent their knowledge through the transmitting the necessary information with the assistance of both words and gestures. In short, body language accompanies speech proper.

Undoubtedly, gestural nature of language is regarded to an obvious factor of its essence. However, speech is considered to relate mainly a gestural system and not a sound-based. This investigation tends to become a recently examined tendency in the linguistic researches. It seems to be explained by the fact that speech is understood as a range of phonemes which are perceived in the form of sound in its acoustic resemblance. This fact seems to be relevant because of the sound spectrograph discovering. “Yet we can perceive speech at remarkably high rates, up to at least 10 – 15 phonemes per second, which seems at odds with the idea that some complex, context-dependent transformation is necessary” (Corballis, 2009). Therefore, speech is perceived in terms of how it produced and not because of the sound recognition. In the field of articulatory phonology speech patterns are transmitted in terms of particular movements, i.e. gestures. There are six articulatory organs – “the lips, the velum, the larynx, and the blade, body, and root of the tongue” (Corballis, 2009). Paradoxically, speech perception is explained by the physical aspects that are produced by gestures and not by the phonemic ones that are resembled with the help of a sound spectrograph.

The discovery of mirror neurons gives an explanation of the motor theory in terms of speech perception. The experiments with monkeys proved the fact that mirror neurons are included into the so-called ‘mirror system’ and deal with the manual grasping of the others’ movements. “The superior temporal sulcus also contains cells that respond to observed biological actions, including grasping actions” (Corballis, 2009). Other areas of the human brain may also be a part of the mirror system, thus, the similar investigations have been proved in the case with a human being. Evidentially, the areas that are involved in the process of mirror system in people tend to be lateralized to the left-hemisphere that is especially important in cases of damage of this part of the brain.

The process of observing speech movements includes producing a sound of speech by mouth moving which activates in its turn the mirror system. Concerning human language, it is regarded as “a matter of producing, perceiving, and interpreting gestures” (Corballis, 2009). Certainly, it is almost impossible to distinguish the monkey’s movement grasping as language. Nonetheless, human mirror system differs from the monkey’s one in sense of being activated by particular movements that have to be oriented straight to the object. Besides, unlike monkeys, humans are prone to experience abstract cognition. The neural areas as a part of the mirror system serve for the purpose of capacity for the comprehension of physical movement. The incorporation of vocalization among the primates is viewed as the response to the sounds of certain movements, though these sounds are mainly based on the manual action. The vocalization process in humans is accomplished through the prism of a complex system of the pyramidal structure as a necessary component of the whole control of the speech producing which is unique only to human beings (Corballis, 2009).

Evolutionary psychology was developed in terms of cognitive sciences that involve the so-called ‘computational theories’. According to David Marr, these theories are considered to be “functional descriptions of what information processing devices, including brains, are designed to do” (Fikes, 2001). Thus, computational theories aim to accomplish the search for cognitive examplifications of the device. EP’s purpose lies in the process of generating “hypotheses regarding mental modules” and in the usage of a certain range of research methods in order to test the hypotheses (Fikes, 2001). The empirical methods productively coexist with the methods concerning cognitive processes like conceptualization. EP is regarded to be a relativily recent science in terms of combination of both evolutionary biology methods and those of the cognitive sciences. However, psychology is proved to be a relevant science within the temporal frames while having been based on the principle of Darwinian consideration. On the contrary, EP representatives assume themselves to become revolutionalists. Thus, computational theory “unifies the previously isolated subdisciplines, empirical observations, and methods” (Fikes, 2001).

Another perspective of evolutionary study is presented by naturalistic aspects, i.e. everything is being evolved through the natural processes. Over decades this account was widely exercised by numerous fields within the scientific investigations. Concerning EP testing, the phenomenon of human consciousness stands for the problem full of psycological mysteries. “EP has initiated a full frontal attack on the study of the human mind using a Darwinian adaptionist approach” (Grace & Moreland, 2002). Nevertheless, the question of consciousness remains an open one as the consciousness itself is regarded to be “tantalizingly elusive”. Depending on a naturalistic account of the mind, EP “wedded to natural selection and adaptation as the key explanatory mechanisms” (Grace & Moreland, 2002). It is obvious that large space of the human brain is devoted to frontal and prefrontal lobes that serve for correlation of the self-conscious capaciry. Researching the mysteries of the human consciousness, scientists found out that physical part interacts with mental. However, the evidence proved the phenomena of consciousness and self-consciousness in EP though still remains elusive, tend to adhere better and assist in solving the questions of intellectual issues.

Outside the sphere of linguistic investigations a plenty of scientists found the lack of connection between linguistics and psychology in terms of the brain basis a sort of complicated question. According to Jackendoff, a model of language is related to the processes that are present in the language proper. He was convinced that psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists had to work in one direction in order to gain a success in both fields. Language structure in terms of its phonology, semantics and syntactics “allows for a connection between semantics (conceptual structure) and articulatory and perceptual systems-an interface that Jackendoff hypothesizes arises during language evolution but still remains and accounts for phenomena such as onomatopoeia in spoken languages” (Emmorey, 2004).

The process of language evolution comprises several issues among which the emergence of a phonological combinatorial system occurs. This type of system deals with an unlimited number of symbols. Jackendoff emphasizes on the fact the “the emergence of a phonological system in conjunction with the use of symbol position to convey basic semantic relations led to ‘protolanguage’” (Emmorey, 2004).

Establishing the empirical link between EP and cognitive-linguistic research has been delayed by several reasons. Though, the CL research investigations are of extreme importance in terms of social issues. The evolutionary theory proper is no more relevant for all sciences including human behavior studies. “It is important, therefore, to abandon the notion that evolutionary theorists are exclusively committed to genetic factors play in the emergence of behavior” (Nelson, 1995).

EP is deeply rooted into the notion of the domain-specific selection that presupposes cognitive and emotional processes in terms of solving the survival and reproductional problems. This kind of model does not obtain the biophilic nature of people and limits the effects of the environmenton the human traits. The reductionistic approach comprises the evolutionary psychology in the sense of human consciousness and behavior. The human psyche presents the following qualities of the fears of nature, behavior patterns, the emotional connectedness with the surrounding objects and the reality (Thiessen, 1998).

Language is dependent on social learning and flexible in vocalization emergence. A relatively small group of researchers consider the language oriented as gesture. Besides, “incorporating data on the dynamic patterns of vocal and nonvocal socioemotional communication in present-day great apes is valuable for bringing Corballis’s work into line with important knowledge gleaned from current primate studies” (King, 2003). Cognitive linguists prefer to separate grammar and semantics while other scholars would rather separate vocalizations and a certain type of gestures.

According to Corballis viewstand, gesture plays a fundamental role in the evolutionary theory of language. Species of great apes were grasping the body movement, facial expressions, and even the vocalizations of intense socioemotionality. “This level of socioemotional attention to the body, the limbs, the face, and the head of the social partner is the real platform from which natural selection might have worked” (King, 2003). Nonetheless, any linguistic theory includes biological-cultural issues.

Corballis’s benefit lies in the rejecting a ‘big bang theory’ where a sudden emergence of grammar patterns in language is viewed as the development of human, though in a slow rate. This theory comprises ‘big bang’ not only in language but also in the combination of human behavior and thought. Language is a complex system that presupposes a certain set of rules that is correctly comprehended by linguists. The phoneme formation process is governed by the rules of phonological basis when for the formation of morphemes and sentences stand morphosyntactic rules. This term is called duality of structure. “The notion that language evolved from manual gestures allows for a much more continuous view of language evolution, with vocalizations gradually added to the gestural repertoire, achieving dominance, perhaps, with the emergence of Homo sapiens” (Corballis, 2009). The manual language is suggested to be distinguished as ‘natural’, that is spoken language. Obviously, grammatical language appeared from the protolanguage that evokes the prognosticating function of the sophisticated grammatical norms that have been created in order to become more advanced.

The tendency of considering the possibile increasing of brain size proves the fact that language is likely to have been originally rather gestural than vocal. Thus, the assumption of the brain increasing may acknowledge the capacity of controlling and sequencies of motions. Certainly, the language could not be called a true language being it a simple grasping of particular movements. It is also a complex system of grammatical structures, cognitive capacity and attentional behavior (Corballis, 2009).

Generally, language may be viewed in various ways. However, “even language based on manual gestures, as in the signed languages of the deaf, quickly becomes conventionalized and loses most of its iconic or mimetic aspect” (Corballis, 2009). If it happens that language becomes a conventionalized system full of symbols, it takes various forms through the prism of the cultural issues. Vocal language presupposes the traits of the manual system and introduces vocal elements depicting in such a way the dominance of the speech. Speech from the evolutionary perspective contains the vocal apparatus changes, breathing control, “and incorcomplete until the emergence of our own species, Homo sapiens” (Corballis, 2009).

Visual language has certainly more advantages that vocal one. Besides, people who are challenged in terms of being unable to hear or to speak, substitute a vocal for a signed language. Moreover, visual language by its nature is considered to be more iconic, thus, a majority of people uses gesture while communicating with another language speaker. In native language, gestures are implemented in order to add a significant object a connotational color. Human beings are characterized by their flexibility and creativeness in terms of communication and storage of information. People may switch from manual to vacal language and vice versa. The process of communication is not only the transmission of certain information; it resembles an individual emotional state as well. “Both speech and signing carry the imprint of the individual identity, and can vary within individuals depending on mood or pathological states” (Corballis, 2009). Concerning handwriting, it is also possible to state the sensitivity to depression, some mental disorders, and even the type of character.

Culturally modified communication needs to explain particular rules of behavior in terms of gesticulation within a cross-cultural perception. Although, six facial expressions are known across the countries, certain societies may preserve their own rules and traditions. The notion of eye  the contact differs in various communities. For instance, Arabs tend to make more eye contact in comparison, for instance, with North Americans. “Africans, in contrast, are taught to avoid eye contact when another person of higher status is speaking” (Beall, 2004).

The level of physical proximity is viewed differently in different cultures. Sometimes, body language speaks more than verbal means. Gestures provide a communicant with the overall pictures of the person’s state. In order to avoid misunderstandings there is a set of stable traditionally defined gesticulatory patterns that are required to be aware of while communicating with a representative of a certain culture.

Language is closely related to gesticulatory system. It is based on the mirror system in terms of grasping and maintaining the movement patterns. Previously, human beings exercised the manual language and the written one was developed after the emergence of speech. However, writing may also be the resemblance of the mirror system due to its analytical recognition. Language evolution creates better social bounding among cultures in terms of person’s being acknowledged of the differencies and being able to judge from the gestures not worse than from the verbal means.

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