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Wolfgang Wildgen Evolutionary Pragmatics


The symbolic forms are manifestations of man's basic symbolic capacity. ... Some facts about the evolution of technologies and art ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Wolfgang Wildgen Evolutionary Pragmatics

Wolfgang Wildgen Evolutionary Pragmatics
  • Late Spring School
  • Cognitive Semiotics
  • Sofia, NBU 29th of May

Condillacs thesis
  • Abbé de Condillac formulated in 1746 the thesis
    that language issued from a signaling
    behavior/language based on non signaling
    behavior i.e. a language of action.
  • This was considered as the common ground making
    animal communication and human language
  • As a corollary he assumed a language of gestures
    prior to a phonic language in the development of
    early men.
  • He is thus the grandfather of evolutionary
    pragmatics the father would be Darwin who
    assumes a real continuity between species and as
    a consequence on the behavioral side a continuity
    between animal communication and human language.

Basic thesis of evolutionary pragmatics
  • Pragmatic principles , i.e. those governing the
    behavioral patterns and motion schemata of
    animate beings are the bottom line of any
    signaling behavior.
  • In the transition of social signaling to social
    language the meaning of linguistic signs is
    primarily motivated by the action they allow or
    even constitute (define).

Ernst Cassirer (1874 1945) and his philosophy
of symbolic forms (1923-29)
On the relation between different symbolic forms
  • For Cassirer the symbolic organization of
    thinking (giving symbolic form to pre-symbolic
    thought) demarcates the transition between nature
    and culture.
  • The symbolic forms are manifestations of mans
    basic symbolic capacity.
  • They emerge as a plurality myth, language,
    science. Intermediary symbolic forms are
    technology and art.
  • It follows that the evolution of symbolic
    behavior may be followed in all these
  • As a consequence it is possible to use the
    evolution of technology and art to fill
    observational lacunae in the evolution of

Some facts about the evolution of technologies
and art
Instrumentality in higher mammals and man
  • The use of instruments and the goal-oriented
    adaptation (manufacturing) of tools can be
    observed in many orders of animals ants
    (insects), birds, and mammals all use simple
    instruments. In some cases, this allows them to
    access difficult areas of their body (elephants)
    or to reach under surfaces. Chimpanzees shape
    twigs to facilitate fishing for termites in
  • The use of instruments may be inborn and even the
    evolution of limbs may be connected to
    instrumental functions, i.e., limbs are shaped
    evolutionarily to adapt for specific instrumental
    functions. Thus, primate and human hands take
    over functions originally located in the head
    (mouth) for attack, defense, preparation of food,
    for mastication, etc.
  • Our gestured language, facial expressions, art
    practices and vocal language presuppose a kind of
    instrumental evolution of the human (and
    hominid) hand and face.

Possible evolutionary steps leading to cave art
The evolution of tool use
  • The development of tool-use and tool making
    implies learning, social imitation or even
    teaching. Tembrok (1977 186 f) distinguishes six
  • ad-hoc tool-using
  • purposeful tool-using
  • tool-modifying for immediate purpose
  • tool-modifying for future eventuality
  • ad-hoc-tool-making
  • cultural tool-making
  • The last stage, cultural tool-making, can only
    be observed in primates and in man.

Human tool use in the Paleolithic
Lithic technologies. Left reconstruction of the
technique right products of the Levallois
The Design of Lithic Instruments
  • The industry had to consider the following
  • Form and quality of a stone found (this includes
    a geographic knowledge of places, where they may
    be found).
  • Splitting of the stone and isolation of the
  • Separation of sharp blades from the kernel.
  • Use of instruments for choking stone on one side
    and use of stone instruments for the
    manufacturing of other instruments (bone and

Handaxe in the early Paleolithic (above) Abbévilli
en- Biface (Le Stade) Le Champs de
Mars (below) Middle Acheuléen (Saint Acheul) (cf.
Weiner, 1972 130)
Abbévillien 600.000-350.000, second glacial
period Acheuléen 350.000-100.000 third glacial
(left) Moustérien until 40.000, fourth glacial
period Charente (middle), La Quina (right) , La
Quina (all in the Mousterian period)
Blades from the Solutrean
Blades from the Magdale-nean
From tool-use to cave art Periods in ky
The beginning of graphical art
  • The beginning of graphical arts can be dated by
    the first appearance of concentrated color
    pigments in the context of hominid dwellings.
    Barham (2001) reports that in south central
    Africa pieces of iron hematite (often called
    ochre) and specularite were recovered from an
    archeological site near Twin Rivers, in Zambia.
    They had been brought to the site, processed and
    rubbed against surfaces. One can infer that these
    materials were used to color objects, bodies or
    surfaces. The use of such pigments establishes a
    continuity, which reaches from the archeological
    sites mentioned (i.e., from 270.000y. BP) to
    contemporary hunter-gathers in the Kalahari. The
    first engravings on stone were also found in
    Africa and can be dated to 70.000y. BP. One can
    conclude that archaic Homo sapiens used colors to
    paint (e.g., their bodies, objects, and/or large

Rock-engravings and color use
  • Rock engravings and later plastic art in stone
    may be understood as the origin of
    representational art.
  • As this line also leads to the invention abstract
    (motivated by cultural memory) signs and finally
    to writing, the modern cultures of fine arts and
    literature have their origin in Paleolithic
    symbol techniques.
  • Color was originally used for body-painting,
    later in the context of funeral practices, and
    finally in the art of caves (after 40.000 BP)

Drawings on portable art
Bone of a mammoth with ornaments from Mezin
The engraved bone in the possession of a person
and the engraving on it may be used as a
prototype (or a model of imitation) which orients
further perception of similar objects. It is also
an object of value (it can be given, stolen,
inherited or buried with the owner). Becoming an
object of value marks the point of transition to
ritual and magical objects.
Varieties of Venus-Figures in Western- and
Eastern Europe. A Willendorf B Lespuge C
Grimaldi D Dolné-Vêstonice, E,F und L
Kostienki G Khotylevo H und J Avdevo I und
K Gargarino
The dominance of female statuettes and female
symbols (vulvas) was interpreted as the
consequence of a more gendered society in the
Upper Paleolithic. Eventually a more egalitarian
society was replaced by a society with social
differentiation and a divergence between female
and male roles
From Sanchidrián, 2001 12
Abstract representations of human bodies Males
and females Russia
Paleolithic cave paintings
  • Cave paintings occur mainly in an area north and
    west of the Pyrenees mainly in Périgord,
    Toulouse (France) and Cantabrica (Spain).
    Probably the area was a very early economic
    Kulturbund (network of civilizations) in
    Europe. The herds of reindeer (as in northern
    Finland today) defined the relevant ecological
    dynamics. They probably came to the plains in
    winter and returned to higher grounds in the
    Pyrenees, the Cantabrica Mountains or the Massif
    Central in France in summer. The populations of
    Cro-Magnon men followed the herds and thus met
    other populations in southern France and northern
  • Other forms of Paleolithic art show an extension
    of this cultural region to Switzerland, Italy,
    Southern Germany and Eastern Europe.

Drawing techniques and body motion
Monochrome drawing of a horse (Peña de Candamo)
  • Patterns of locomotion are not only relevant for
    the content of pictures but also for their
    production. Beltran et al (1998 72) have shown
    that painters in the cave of Altamira stood with
    their left arm on the cave wall and traced along
    it to get a long curved line i.e., they used
    their (left) arm and hand as a mold for lines. In
    a similar way the natural motion of the arm with
    fixed body was the basis for larger curved lines,
    e.g., the shoulder and back of a bison, i.e., the
    human limbs were used as instruments in a
    ritualized act of painting. The drawing of a
    bison can thus be decomposed into a series of
    natural motion patterns, which begin at the head
    and end at the hind legs (variants of this
    technique are common).
  • The surface can be further structured by lines
    which separate light and dark parts, or by areas
    with different color or texture and further
    details can be added. In this context it is
    worthwhile to note that certain body parts of
    animals receive special attention the hair of a
    bison or its eye and nose (in Altamira), the
    heads of horses (e.g., a sequence of four heads
    with necks in cave Chauvet) and of lions (e.g.,
    the sketched or elaborated heads and necks in

  • The cultural achievement of Paleolithic art
    presupposes a rather general grid of meanings on
    the level of values in a probably multilingual
    society of hunters. It would be exceptional if
    the existence of a large-scale system of values
    for exchange had not produced a collective system
    of meanings.
  • The diversity of conventional signs (cf.
    Leroi-Gourhan, 1992 137-140) shows a range of
    distribution corresponding in size to actual
    dialect-areas and suggests that the populations
    living in the Franco-Cantabric area had many
    different subcultures.
  • Nevertheless these dialects formed an assembly
    on the level of basic semantics and pragmatics
    used in cultural contacts, rituals, in the oral
    tradition of myths and the practice of rituals.
  • They formed probably one of the largest
    preliterate symbolic civilizations before the
    introduction of writing.

  • Paleolithic paintings contain many signs, which
    cannot be interpreted as pictures or figures. The
    transition between iconic signs and abstract
    signs (symbols) occurs first with very frequent
    contents. Two human body-parts appear regularly
    in the paintings and engravings
  • The human hand.
  • The female vulva.
  • In the case of the hand the most concrete picture
    is created either by pressing the (left) hand on
    the wall and painting the contours (or by
    spraying chewed color with the mouth) or by
    painting the hand with color and pressing it
    against the wall. The picture is really the trace
    of the hand (it indicates the act of touching the
    wall with the hand). Other tokens abstract the
    shape of the human hand to a line (a band) with
    three, four, five branches

  • First signs of abstraction
  • Styled Represen-tations of hands
  • Cave Santian (Spain)).

  • The relation of hands to their body is
    metonymical (pars pro toto), i.e., one can guess
    the whole if one has the necessary knowledge,
    which is easy in the case of the hand. In some
    cases, the hands are deformed (e.g., have only
    four fingers) they could therefore be the
    personal signature of a painter some authors
    even guessed an underlying gestured language.

Methonymic abstraction
Contours of a deers head
Giant deer
Sketch of a deers head
Graphical and writing technologies as symbolic
manifestations parallel to an evolved (but not
yet diocumented) language
  • Many pictures in the painted caves cannot be
    linked with specific contents, from which they
    are derived. Leroi-Gourhan (1992 chapter IX)
    made an inventory of the Franco-Cantabric signs
    and distinguished three major classes
  • small signs (e.g., sticks and ramified forms),
  • full signs e.g., triangles, squares, rectangles
    (tecti-forms), key shapes (clavi-forms), and
  • punctuated signs.
  • Leroi-Gourhan comes to the conclusion that all
    these signs have only a very indirect association
    with the animals represented in the paintings.
    They are a supplementary code. This is very clear
    in Lascaux, where signs and pictures are
    systematically combined into one gestalt and have
    corresponding sizes (cf. ibidem 337).

  • Combination (and separation) of pictorial and
    abstract signs in the Paleolithic period.
  • (cf. J. Jelinek, 1975, 433)

The abstract sign is of the tectiform type
  • The small signs could be derived by
    disjunction, i.e., certain figural features
    from pictures are isolated, cut off. The general
    tendency is one of geometrical abstraction. Small
    pictures as in portable art could have triggered
    the abstraction. The conventionalized miniature
    signs were later added to full-scale pictures in
    the cave paintings. This is the same process as
    the one observed in the evolution of early
    writing systems, e.g., in Egypt.
  • Leroi-Gourhan associates these signs with the
    male sex (as phallic symbols). Full signs are
    associated with the female sex. Either they are
    derived from the form of the vulva, or from a
    female profile (without head and feet).

  • The signs called tecti-forms or rectangular
    (cf. ibidem 208 f.) look like huts or shelters
    and could refer secondarily to the domain of
    females (In a matrilineal society, daughters
    inherit the house and objects in the house and
    these are associated with the female sex).
    Figure 17 shows some examples from Leroi-Gourhan
    (1992 319).
  • The punctuated signs can be related to a basic
    technique of painting and engraving, i.e., to
    aligned points, which produce a curve or two rows
    of them, which fill a surface. It is thus a
    discrete variant in the representation of lines
    and surfaces. There is some evidence that
    counting or representing mathematical structures
    may underlie these signs

A list of abstract symbols
Tectiform symbols 1-16 1-10 Dordogne ( Les
Eyzies) 11-16 Northern Spain (Altamira,
Castillo, u.a.) 17 23 isolated signs
Transition to writing (the last 10.000 years)
Object signs
  • Original functions
  • Representation of objects for the purpose of
    bookkeeping (a sign stands for an object in the
    economic world)
  • Creation of a representational universe of
    discourse (where the buying, selling, transfer.,
    loss etc. of objects is represented).
  • Calculation (origin of mathematics)

  • The abstraction process from pictures to writing
    symbols corresponds to a general mnemonic
    principle. This is also valid for messages in an
    object language employed by Yoruba tribes and in
    Australian messenger-sticks. The message is coded
    for the messenger, who reads it when he arrives
    after a long journey. This guarantees that he
    does not forget important contents, but it
    presupposes that he knows the message. This means
    that the written message can only be read
    accurately if the reader has a knowledge of its
    contents independently from the written
    document (cf. Friedrich, 1960 17).
  • Full-fledged writing-systems presuppose a writing
    industry, i.e., the frequent production and usage
    of writing in proper contexts. The Paleolithic
    stone industries established the context for the
    manufacturing of functionally optimal artifacts
    (weapons, tools), the Mesolithic and Neolithic
    picture and symbol industries established the
    necessary context for writing systems

  • The communicative/functional usage of writing was
    systematically developed in Mesopotamia, which
    became a melting pot of many cultures and
    concentrated large populations into one organized
    political system. The paths for the exchange of
    goods, values, and ideas became complex and
    difficult to control. The civilizations of
    Mesopotamia (and the golden crescent) took
    their new shape between 11 and 8.000y. BP. The
    first token systems, called object languages
    by Schmandt-Besserat (1978), appeared ca. during
    this area and were not dramatically changed for
    almost five millennia. Only in the Bronze Age,
    between 7,500y. BP and 5,100y. BP, did the number
    of tokens increase and their shape differentiate
    and finally give rise to Sumerian writing (ca.
    5.000y. BP cf. also Friedrich, 1966 42 f.). The
    context was not religious but economic. The
    storage, transport and control of goods motivated
    a system of bookkeeping. A closed jar contained a
    number of symbolic objects, which stood for the
    goods sent to a destination. On the jar, a list
    of the symbolic objects in the jar was marked.
  • The next slide shows the state of the system in
    the intermediate period of the Bronze age (before
    Sumerian writing arrived).

Early object-symbols (choice from a field of 12
  • The pragmatics of modern languages concern the
    embedding of linguistic utterances into contexts
    of use (speaker, hearer, situation, time, etc.)
    and the action patterns, formed by linguistic
    utterances (i.e. speech acts, conversational
    sequences). In an evolutionary perspective these
    contexts of action (the ecology, the group
    structure) become dominant, because language
    itself is only emerging step-by-step and
    reshaping, developing the earlier action
    patterns. At the same time, the social ecology
    (and later the physical ecology) is dramatically
    changed by the effect of linguistic thinking and

  • Bax, Marcel, Barend van Heusden and Wolfgang
    Wildgen (eds.), 2004. Semiotic Evolution and the
    Dynamics of Culture, Lang, Bern.
  • Becker, Peter René, 1993. Werkzeuggebrauch im
    Tierreich. Wie Tiere hämmern, bohren, streichen.
    Stuttgart Hirzel.
  • Boesch, Christophe, 1993. Aspects of Transmission
    of Tool-use in Wild Chimpanzees, in Gibson
    Ingold (1993 171-183).
  • Boesch, Christophe and Michael Tomasello (1998).
    Chimpanzee and Human Cultures, in Current
    Anthropology, 39(5), 591-614.
  • Bühler, Karl (1934/1965). Sprachtheorie. Die
    Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache. 2nd edition
    (1965). Stuttgart Fischer.

  • Cassirer, Ernst, 1953/1957. The Philosophy of
    Symbolic Forms, vol. 1 to 3, Yale U.P., New
  • Davidson, Iain and William Noble, 1993. Tools and
    Language in Human Evolution, in Gibson and
    Ingold (1993 363-388).
  • Gibson, Kathleen R. and Tim Ingold (Eds.), 1993.
    Tools, Language and Cognition in Human Evolution.
    Cambridge Cambridge U.P.
  • Quiatt, Diane and Vernon Reynolds, 1993. Primate
    Behaviour. Information, Social Knowledge, and the
    Evolution of Culture. Cambridge Cambridge U.P.
  • Reynolds, Peter C. (1983). Ape Constructional
    Ability and the Origin of Linguistic Structure,
    in Grolier (1983 185-200).
  • Tomasello, Michael, 1999. The Cultural Origins of
    Human Cognition, Harvard U.P., Cambridge (Mass.).

  • Wildgen, Wolfgang, 1999. Hand und Auge. Eine
    Studie zur Repräsentation und Selbstrepräsentation
    (kognitive und semantische Aspekte). Bremen
    Bremen U.P. (download from the homepage
  • Wildgen, Wolfgang 2001. Kurt Lewin and the Rise
    of Cognitive Sciences in Germany Cassirer,
    Bühler, Reichenbach, in Albertazzi (2001,
  • Wildgen, Wolfgang, 2004. The Evolution of Human
    Languages. Scenarios, Principles, and Cultural
    Dynamics, Benjamins, Amsterdam.
  • Wildgen, Wolfgang, 2007. Evolutionary Pragmatics,
    in Handbook of Pragmatics (compiled by Jef
    Vrschueren and Jan-Ola Östman, Benjamins,
    Amsterdam, 2007 pdf.
  • Wildgen, Wolfgang, 2008. Semiotic Hypercycles
    Driving the Evolution of Language, in Axiomathes
    18 (1) 91-116 pdf.
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