Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Summer 2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication

Abstract

This text posits the emergence of language as a function of brain-hemispheric feedback, where “emergence” refers to the generation of complex patterns from relatively simple interactions, “language” refers to an abstraction-based and representational-recombinatorial-recursive mapping-signaling system, “function” refers to an input-output relationship described by fractal algorithms, “brain-hemispheric” refers to complementary (approach-abstraction / avoidance-gestalt) cognitive modules, and “feedback” refers to self-regulation driven by neural inhibition and recruitment. The origin of language marks the dawn of human self-awareness and culture, and is thus a matter of fundamental and cross-disciplinary interest. This text is a synthesized research essay that constructs its argument by drawing diverse scholarly voices into a critical, cross-disciplinary intertextual narrative. While it does not report any original empirical findings, it harnesses those made by others to offer a tentative, partial solution—one that can later be altered and expanded—to a problem that has occupied thinkers for centuries. The research contained within this text is preceded by an introductory Section 1 that contextualizes the problem of the origin of language. Section 2 details the potential of evolutionary theory for addressing the problem, and the reasons for the century-long failure of linguistics to take advantage of that potential. Section 3 reviews the history of the discovery of brain lateralization, as well as its behavioral and structural characteristics. Section 4 discusses evolutionary evidence and mechanisms in terms of increasing adaptive complexity and intelligence, in general, and tool use, in particular. Section 5 combines chaos theory, brain science, and semiotics to propose that, after the neotenic acquisition of contingency-based abstraction, language emerged as a feedback interaction between the left-hemisphere abstract word and the right-hemisphere gestalt image. I conclude that the model proposed here might be a valuable tool for understanding, organizing, and relating data and ideas concerning human evolution, language, culture, and psychology. I recommend, of course, that I present this text to the scholarly community for criticism, and that I continue to gather and collate relevant data and ideas, in order to prepare its next iteration.

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