Abstract

Perspectives on the difficult topic of the evolution of language can be differentiated to a large extent based on how much relevant continuity or discontinuity they see between humans and nonhuman animals. In general, biologists and psychologists tend to have a broad definition of “language” that highlights significant continuities, whereas linguists tend to define “language” more narrowly, in accord with their emphasis on the uniqueness of human capacities. This article examines the value of Whitehead's innovative theory of language, which is grounded in his account of the fundamental symbolic element in basic perceptual processes, mainly for understanding the continuities between animal and human perceptual and symbolic activity but also for accommodating the discontinuity, or at least the pivotal difference, evident in the full flowering of human language. It will focus particularly on applying Whitehead's approach to gain a new understanding of the emergence, with the rise of amphibians, of the first vocalization in the history of life.

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