The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition

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The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition

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Magdalena Szyszka. Laird S. The Patient and the Analyst. Joseph Sandler. In my opinion, his analysis adds substantially to this field. Tomasello is a staunch continuity theorist; that is, he rejects evolutionary miracles and looks for a smooth blending from ape to human characteristics.

Noam Chomsky speaks about Universal Linguistics: Origins of Language

He finds the roots of essential human social skills such as joint attention in existing primate attentional skills such as gaze following. Similarly, he sees the origins of cultural learning by imitation in the emulative skills of chimpanzees and the origins of pedagogy in the capacity of primates to profit from social facilitation. His gradualist approach is also applied elsewhere: the primate talent for object manipulation evolved gradually into human tool making, and primate social signals combined with improved mind-reading skills and became symbolic.

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Thus, the leap to language no longer appears to involve a qualitative break-through, or saltation, and its evolution becomes much less mysterious than it appeared in the context of neo-Chomskyan theory, which suggested that human language was completely different from its primate antecedents. Tomasello has made a convincing case for the generative role of social cognition in language evolution.

But I think he has left some important things out of his evolutionary hypothesis. I do not dispute the critical importance of social understanding. But we cannot ignore the motor aspect of communication and representation. Improved social under standing could not have led to language in itself. Without a major modification of their motor capacities, primates would have been good social observers who were still unable to formulate complex expressions.