Attention and tool-use in the evolution of language

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


It is argued that the capacity to focus attention is crucial for intentional communication. Intentional communication is goal-intended; directed at changing mental states and as a consequence behaviour; about a referential object common to sender and recipient; and about objects that may be context-and referent-independent. Three different kinds of attention is discerned: scanning, attention attraction, and attention-focusing. The focus of attention can, depending on the abilities of the subject, be on objects or subjects that either are contextual or stable, and it can be individual or shared. For language use, subject-subject focusing along with shared attention are necessary. This does not require Gricean metarepresentations, but basically only attention contact between the subjects and behavioral co-ordination. Language use can be compared with tool use to bring out the characteristics that distinguish informational from intentional communication. The capacities required for tool use are in several cases similar to those required for language use. A basic similarity is that both activities are used as means to an end.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Philosophy


  • evolution of language, Intelligence, Perception, Reference, Tool use, Attention, intentional communication
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
JournalSpinning Ideas- Electronic Essays Dedicated to Peter Gärdenfors on his fiftieth Birthday
Publication statusUnpublished - 1999
Publication categoryResearch

Total downloads

No data available