The structure and evolution of symbol

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The received opinion is that symbol is an evolutionary prerequisite for syntax. This paper shows two things: 1) symbol is not a monolithic phenomenon, and 2) symbol and syntax must have co-evolved. I argue that full-blown syntax requires only three building blocks: signs, concatenation, grammar (constraints on concatenation). Functional dependencies between the blocks suggest the four-stage model of syntactic evolution, compatible with several earlier scenarios: (1) signs, (2) increased number of signs, (3) commutative concatenation of signs, (4) grammatical (noncommutative) concatenation of signs. The main claim of the paper is that symbolic reference comprises up to five distinct interpretative correlates: mental imagery, denotation, paradigmatic connotation, syntagmatic connotation, and definition. I show that the correlates form an evolutionary sequence, some stages of which can be aligned with certain stages of syntactic evolution. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.




Luuk, E. (2013). The structure and evolution of symbol. New Ideas in Psychology, 31(2), 87–97.

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