Blondin-Massé, Alexandre; Harnad, Stevan; Picard, Olivier; and St-Louis, Bernard (2013) Symbol Grounding and the Origin of Language: From Show to Tell. In, Lefebvre, Claire; Cohen, Henri; and Comrie, Bernard (eds.) New Perspectives on the Origins of Language. Benjamin
Organisms’ adaptive success depends on being able to do the right thing with the right kind of thing. This is categorization. Most species can learn categories by direct experience (induction). Only human beings can acquire categories by word of mouth (instruction). Artificial-life simulations show the evolutionary advantage of instruction over induction, human electrophysiology experiments show that the two ways of acquiring categories still share some common features, and graph-theoretic analyses show that dictionaries consist of a core of more concrete words that are learned earlier, from direct experience, and the meanings of the rest of the dictionary can be learned from definition alone, by combining the core words into subject/predicate propositions with truth values. Language began when purposive miming became conventionalized into arbitrary sequences of shared category names describing and defining new categories via propositions.