|dc.description.abstract||Pragmatics is the branch of linguistics that addresses the relationship between language
and its external environment – in particular the communicative context. Social evolution
(or sociobiology) is the branch of the biological sciences that studies the social behaviour of organisms, particularly with respect to the ecological and evolutionary forces with which it must interact. These two disciplines thus share a natural epistemic link, one
that is concerned with the relationship between behaviour and the environment. There
has, however, historically been no dialogue between them. This thesis attempts to fill
that void: it examines pragmatics from the perspective of social evolution theory.
Chapter 1 gives a brief introduction to the two fields and their key ideas, and
also discusses why an evolutionary understanding of pragmatics is crucial to the study
of language origins.
In chapter 2 the vexed question of the biological function of language is
discussed. Responses are given to the claims, common in the evolutionary linguistics
literature, that the processes of exaptation, self‑organisation and cultural transmission
provide alternatives to natural selection as a source of design in nature. The intuitive
conclusion that the function of language is communication is provisionally supported,
subject to a proper definition of communication.
Chapter 3 reviews previous definitions and consequently argues for an account
predicated on the designedness of signals and responses. This definition is then used to
argue that an evolutionarily coherent model of language should recognise the pragmatic
realities of ostension and inference and reject the code‑like idealisation that is often used
in its place.
Chapter 4 observes that this fits the argument that the biological function of
language is communication and then addresses the key question faced by all evolved
communication systems – that of evolutionary stability. The human capacity to record
and remember the past behaviour of others is seen to be critical.
Chapter 5 uses the definition of communication from chapter 3 to describe a very
general model of evolved communication, and then uses the constraints of that model to
argue that Relevance Theory, or at least some theory of pragmatics with a very similar
logical structure, must be correct.
Chapter 6 then applies the theoretical apparatus constructed in chapters 2 to 5 to
a crucial and topical issue in evolutionary linguistics: the emergence of learnt, symbolic
communication. It introduces the Embodied Communication Game, an experimental tool
whose basic structure is significantly informed by both social evolutionary and, in
particular, pragmatic theory. The novelty of the game is that participants must find a
way to communicate not just the content that they wish to convey, but also the very fact
that a given behaviour is communicative in nature, and this constraint is found to
fundamentally influence the type of system that emerges.
Chapter 7, which concludes the thesis, recounts and clarifies what it tells us
about the origins and evolution of language, and suggests a number of possible avenues
for future research.||en