Hegel nella caverna. Speculazioni sull’origine del linguaggio


An ancient problem for human thought is that of explaining the conditions that allowed the development of language, along with the related issue of understanding the essential characteristics that distinguish it from animal communication systems.  A recent article of significant influence is Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch (2002), which proposed that the essential characteristic of human language is its generative capacity, the ability to express and understand meaning using basic elements (such as morphemes and words) to produce new sentences.  The article by Hauser and colleagues provoked many reactions, including negative ones, one of which is that of Jackendoff and Pinker (Jackendoff & Pinker, 2005).  These authors identify the main characteristic of language not so much in its pure syntactic capacity but in its being more specifically a "discrete combinatorial system" (Pinker, 1994): in systems of this type, a finite number of discrete elements are chosen, combined, and permuted to create larger structures with properties distinct from those of their components.  In contrast to Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch (2002), and also to Jackendoff & Pinker (2005), Pinker and Jackendoff (2005), in this article, I propose that the essential trait of human language, from which all others descend is, instead, what I will call referential freedom, that is, the ability that allows humans to talk about anything,  not only of things, actions and events belonging to the present of the act of communication but also of their past and their future, as well as of things belonging to other places and spatio-temporal realities.  In fact, a language characterized by a discrete combinatorial system, or even by a combinatorial complexity generated by syntactic recursiveness, would be utterly useless if the communicative act were closely linked to the here and now of the present.  Furthermore, I will examine the neuro-cognitive conditions that may have allowed humans to develop referential freedom and, more generally, representational detachment from the present.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v53p51

Keywords: evoluzione del linguaggio; comunicazione animale; nascita della coscienza; memoria di lavoro; segni


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