Gestures and 'attention-getters' at the origins of the multimodal facets of modern language

Marie Bourjade (Université Jean Jaurès - Toulouse)

16 octobre 2020, 11h30–12h30


Salle Zoom Meeting


Recent multidisciplinary work pinpoints at the ‘multi-modalic orchestration’ of language, naturally embodied in multisensory biological and cognitive adaptations. Language has traditionally been thought to evolve from either vocal or gestural ancestral communication, i.e., the vocal-first vs. gesture-first controversy, which leads either way to the transition problem from an ancestral unimodal form to a modern multimodal form of language. I will address the transition problem from visual to multimodal language at the specific layer of intentional communication. I will first review experimental works conducted on baboon gestural communication to point at how and when this communication turns multimodal. It will exemplify the interest of the baboon model to study human language acquisition. Notably, I report on experimental results about the determinants of individual communicative skills enhancing the importance of the exposure to others’ faces that we manipulated in our baboons. On this basis, I will introduce an Evo-Devo hypothesis that infant multimodal signaling emerged in the embedment of (multimodal) maternal attention, in particular when maternal attention needed to be regained, i.e., in cases of attentional breakdowns. Using a developmental and comparative approach, I will show that ‘attention-getters’ are multimodal solutions that prelinguistic children and non-human primates consistently bring to solve these communication problems. I will propose different ways of testing this hypothesis of attention-getting multimodal communication.


Marie Bourjade (Université Jean Jaurès - Toulouse), « Gestures and 'attention-getters' at the origins of the multimodal facets of modern language », IAST General Seminar, Toulouse : IAST, 16 octobre 2020, 11h30–12h30, salle Zoom Meeting.