Human uniqueness, bodily mimesis and the evolution of language

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


I argue that an evolutionary adaptation for bodily mimesis, the volitional use of the body as a representational devise, is the “small difference” that gave rise to unique and yet pre-linguistic features of humanity such as (over)imitation, pedagogy, intentional communication and the possibility of a cumulative, representational culture. Furthermore, it is this that made the evolution of language possible. In support for the thesis that speech evolved atop bodily mimesis and a transitional multimodal protolanguage, I review evidence for the extensive presence of sound-symbolism in modern languages, for its psychological reality in adults, and for its contribution to language acquisition in children. On a meta-level, the argument is that dividing human cognitive-semiotic evolution into a sequence of stages is crucial for resolving classical dichotomies on human nature and language, which are both natural and cultural, both continuous with and discontinuous from those of (other) animals.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Languages and Literature


  • sound symbolism, representation, iconicity, cross-modality, conventionality
Original languageEnglish
Issue number27
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch