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Evolutionary Pragmatics Forum
‘Pragmatics-First’ Approaches to Animal Communication and the Evolution of Language
Dorit Bar-On, University of Connecticut;
Director, Expression, Communication, and Origins of MeaningResearch Group (ECOM)
Recent discussions of animal communication and the evolution of language have advocated a ‘pragmatics-first’ approach to the subject. Seyfarth & Cheney (2017), for example, propose that “animal communication constitutes a rich pragmatic system” and that “the ubiquity of pragmatics, … suggest[s] that, as language evolved, semantics and syntax were built upon a foundation of sophisticated pragmatic inference”. I begin by distinguishing two different notions of pragmatics advocates of the ‘pragmatics-first’ approach have implicitly relied on (cf. Bar-On and Moore, 2018). On the first, Carnapian notion, pragmatic phenomena are those that involve context-dependent determination of the content or significance of an utterance or signal. On the second, Gricean notion, pragmatic phenomena involve reliance on speakers’ communicative intentions and their decipherment by their hearers. I use the distinction, first, to evaluate a recent formal linguistic analysis of monkey calls, due to Schlenker et al. (e.g. 2014, 2016a,b), which explains the derivation of call meanings through a form of pragmatic enrichment. And, second, I use the distinction to motivate the need for an ‘intermediary pragmatics’ that, I argue, applies only to a subset of animal communicative behaviors, and would allow us to reconceive the significance of animal communication for our understanding of the evolution of language.
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