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History and Ecology of Language and languages

Themes and actions

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The emergence of symbolic communication systems

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Christophe COUPE , Jean-Marie HOMBERT , Egidio MARSICO , Francois PELLEGRINO

Scientific framework and objectives

This project aims at studying the origins of language from a semiotic viewpoint, and at better understanding how a symbolic communication system developed in our ancestors. Our starting hypothesis is an iconic anchoring of the first sound forms, followed by a gradual evolution toward more conventionalized signals. It rests on various proposals regarding phonosymbolism, as they have been put forward during the last decades. In order to validate our hypothesis, we first study the iconic dimensions of articulatory and acoustic parameters (fundamental frequency, size of the oral cavity) or of phonetic units (features, segments), especially in relation to emotions (fear, anger etc.) and using psycholinguistic approaches. We also simulate the emergence of artificial communication systems in the laboratory, relying on methods of so-called experimental semiotics, with the goal of better understanding the dynamics of conventionalization and segmentation of communication forms.

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