Language is iconic and multimodal to its evolutionary core: Evidence from the gorilla Koko and a high-stakes (human) game of “vocal” charades

Freitag, 27. April 2018, 10:15 Uhr bis 11:45 Uhr

I argue that language is iconic and multimodal to its evolutionary core. Specifically, it is built on the ability to create iconic signals with both gestures and vocalizations, and this capability can be traced to the gesturing and vocal behaviour common to great apes. My talk will focus on two aspects of this hypothesis: the vocal abilities of great apes, and the potential for iconicity (form-meaning resemblance) in human vocalization. First, I review recent evidence that the great apes – contrary to many popular accounts – exercise considerable flexibility and learning in their vocal behaviour. This point is illustrated with video of the unique repertoire of the enculturated gorilla Koko. Second, I present findings from a series of “vocal” charades experiments (with human participants) – including a contest with a monetary prize. These studies show that people are able to create iconic vocalizations to communicate a wide array of meanings, and that their vocalizations are understandable to naïve listeners. I conclude that the vocal virtuosity of great apes, and especially of humans, supports the hypothesis that iconic vocalizations, along with iconic gestures, played a critical role in the evolution of language.

MitMarcus Perlman
Raum: FRE D 14
VeranstalterInstitut für Vergleichende Sprachwissenschaft
KontaktMathias Jenny (Mail)