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Speech, gesture and the origins of language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 October 2004

Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistics, Wundtlaan 1, 6525 Nijmegen, The Netherlands. E-mail:


During the second half of the 19th century, the psychology of language was invented as a discipline for the sole purpose of explaining the evolution of spoken language. These efforts culminated in Wilhelm Wundt's monumental Die Sprache of 1900, which outlined the psychological mechanisms involved in producing utterances and considered how these mechanisms could have evolved. Wundt assumes that articulatory movements were originally rather arbitrary concomitants of larger, meaningful expressive bodily gestures. The sounds such articulations happened to produce slowly acquired the meaning of the gesture as a whole, ultimately making the gesture superfluous. Over a century later, gestural theories of language origins still abound. I argue that such theories are unlikely and wasteful, given the biological, neurological and genetic evidence.

Research Article
© Academia Europaea 2004

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