Language, memory, and mental time travel: An evolutionary perspective

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Abstract

Language could not exist without memory, in all its forms: working memory for sequential production and understanding, implicit memory for grammatical rules, semantic memory for knowledge, and episodic memory for communicating personal experience. Episodic memory is part of a more general capacity for mental travel both forward and backward in time, and extending even into fantasy and stories. I argue that the generativity of mental time travel underlies the generativity of language itself, and could be the basis of what Chomsky calls I-language, or universal grammar (UG), a capacity for recursive thought independent of communicative language itself. Whereas Chomsky proposed that I-language evolved in a single step well after the emergence of Homo sapiens, I suggest that generative imagination, extended in space and time, has a long evolutionary history, and that it was the capacity to share internal thoughts, rather than the nature of the thoughts themselves, that more clearly distinguishes humans from other species.

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APA

Corballis, M. C. (2019). Language, memory, and mental time travel: An evolutionary perspective. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2019.00217

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