Social cognition, Stag Hunts, and the evolution of language

Biology and Philosophy 32 (6):797-818 (2017)
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According to the socio-cognitive revolution hypothesis, humans but not other great apes acquire language because only we possess the socio-cognitive abilities required for Gricean communication, which is a pre-requisite of language development. On this view, language emerged only following a socio-cognitive revolution in the hominin lineage that took place after the split of the Pan-Homo clade. In this paper, I argue that the SCR hypothesis is wrong. The driving forces in language evolution were not sweeping biologically driven changes to hominin social cognition. Our LCA with non-human great apes was likely already a Gricean communicator, and what came with evolution was not a raft of new socio-cognitive abilities, but subtle tweaks to existing ones. It was these tweaks, operating in conjunction with more dramatic ecological changes and a significant increase in general processing power, that set our ancestors on the road to language.



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Richard Moore
University of Warwick

References found in this work

Meaning.Herbert Paul Grice - 1957 - Philosophical Review 66 (3):377-388.
Relevance.D. Sperber & Deirdre Wilson - 1986 - Communication and Cognition: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly Journal 2.

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