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Embodiment and emergent phonology in the visual-manual modality : factors enabling sublexical componentiality Tkachman, Oksana


Duality of patterning, which refers to the fact that in languages a limited number of meaningless units combine to create an unlimited number of meaningful units, is considered a language design feature, a property that any human language is expected to have. However, some emerging sign languages have been claimed to lack this property, and some research on spoken languages suggests that it is a strong statistical tendency rather than a universal property of human language. In this dissertation, I explore the possibility that duality of patterning is an emergent property, and it is so widespread because some commonality of human communication motivates its emergence repeatedly, across languages of different types and even modalities. I argue that this commonality is the human body. I adopt the Embodied Cognition framework, which views the body as integral to cognitive processing via the sensorimotor systems that are active not only in action but also in mental imagery and conceptual representation. It views cognition as emergent from embodied experiences of the sensorimotor system, perception, and interaction with the environment. “Abstract” properties of higher cognition are epiphenomenal to the lower-level habitual functioning of bodies in their environments, which is true of language as well. One way to understand how duality of patterning could emerge phylogenetically is via iconicity; iconicity is claimed to be a bridge between language and sensorimotor experiences. I argue that meaningless sublexical componentiality develops as a consequence of the emergence and conventionalization of meaningful sublexical componentiality. We should expect the emergence of meaningful sublexical componentiality in phylogenesis, because we are embodied creatures, and both the content and the form of our communicative messages are motivated and constrained by the structure and kinematics of our bodies. If both the content and the form of the message are embodied, we should expect to find effects of embodiment both in the iconic prototypes chosen to create an iconic sign, and in the phonetic form of a sign. Therefore, I explore the role of two factors, iconicity and kinematics, in contributing to the emergence of a conventionalized inventory of meaningful sublexical segments in the visual-manual modality.

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