From proto-mimesis to language: Evidence from primatology and social neuroscience.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


How can we reconcile the conception of language as a conventional-normative semiotic system with a perception/action-based account of its structure and meaning? And why should linguistic meaning - as opposed to linguistic expression - be so closely related to motor activity and its neural underpinnings, as suggested by recent findings? A conceptual framework and evolutionary scenario building on the concept of bodily mimesis [Zlatev, J., 2005. What's in a schema? Bodily mimesis and the grounding of language. In: Hampe, B. (Ed.), From Perception to Meaning: Image Schemas in Cognitive Linguistics. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp. 313-343] imply answers to these questions. The article presents evidence for a particular evolutionary stage model by reviewing recent evidence on the capacity of non-human primates for intersubjectivity, imitation and gestural communication, and from neuroscientific studies of these capacities in monkeys and human subjects. It is argued that "mirror neuron" systems can subserve basic motoric and social capacities, but they need to be considerably extended in order to provide an efficient basis for bodily mimesis, and even more so for language. It is argued that while language may be ultimately "grounded" in perception and action, it is essential not to try to reduce it to them.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics


  • Bodily mimesis, Primates, Imitation, Gesture, Mirror neurons, Evolution
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-151
JournalJournal of Physiology - Paris
Issue number1-3
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Publication categoryResearch