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What Roles Do Prehistoric Visual Communications Play for the Development of Language?
The origin of language is one of the most controversial questions in modern history concerning the evolution of verbal communication. The prehistoric visual communications such as the body language, gestures, and images provided the opportunity to express the ideas and thoughts to assure the understanding and cooperation between people. The role of such means of communication in the development of language is a significant issue allowing the researchers to determine the importance of the visual introduction of thoughts in the evolution of the verbal communication. The prehistoric visual communication such as the use of gestures and images played a significant role in the development of language because it enhanced the interaction between people and made them improve their communicative abilities and skills.
It is significant to determine the key definitions of the research to explain the essential meaning of the question. The term visual communication is one of the critical elements of the investigation of the development of language. Visual communication is the interpretation of information in visual forms including “still and moving images but also body language” such as gestures and facial expressions (Chandler and Munday 526). The visual communication implies that person perceives the data visually interpreting the sensory information received by the eyes and processed in the brain. The prehistoric means related to the period before the recorded history. The term language means the method of human communication consisting of the words (Stevenson 992). During the prehistoric age before the development of language, these visual means of communication played a considerable role in interpersonal relations allowing people to share their thoughts and ideas, needs and desires. Such a necessity to exchange the information determined the significance of visual communication in the prehistoric times.
The application of gestures as one of the means of visual communication functioning as the means of social interaction proves the significance of this method of communication in the development of language. Tallerman and Gibson examined the question of the influence of the gestures on the development of language (83). They investigated the data about the ape gestures attempting to determine the gestural origin of language. These gestures include the movements of hands and feet. The observation of the apes’ behavior allows applying the data concerning their actions to the analysis of the effect of the visual communication on the development of the language. The body movements and gestures were determined to be connected with the social interaction. Such a relation of this behavior to the necessity to interact with the others implies the association between the gestures and the evolution of language as the means of communication.
The gestures played a significant role in the process of the development of language evolving from the mere pantomime into a means of interaction. “The language evolved from manual gestures” which means that the manual movements were initially the form of pantomime developing later in a means of conveying the symbolic meaning of the behavior and intentions (Corballis 25). The facial and body expressions allowed the prehistoric people to use the biological actions and imitations to convey and interpret their aims and ideas. In the beginning, these gestures were a form of the subconscious and instinctive movements allowing people to express their feelings and thoughts. However, later they evolved into a form of interaction between the elements of community enabling the representatives of the prehistoric society to create the contact between each other developing the number of particular signs and gestures.
The ability to imitate the actions of the other and to understand the meaning of these activities implies the effect of the gestures on the evolution of communication. The recent observation of the mirror neurons supports the idea of the importance of gesture in the development of language (Tallerman and Gibson 84). The imitation of the other’s actions and behavior provides the neurological evidence of the evolution of the language from the gestures. Mirror neurons are significant for the understanding of the behavior and intentions of others allowing the humans to interpret the gestures and use them to convey some particular meanings. The cognitive functions of the humans depend on these neurons making them the critical element in the development of language abilities. The ability to perceive and interpret the actions of the others allows the humans to develop their language skills.
The hands and body language have a more significant meaning in the development of language than the vocalization. The observation of the behavior of different apes provided the opportunity to conclude that “gestural communication with enhanced capacities for imitation” contributed to the development of the proto-language (Arbib et al. 1053). The mirror system hypothesis implies that the language was influenced significantly by the ability of the prehistoric people to perceive and interpret the behavior of the other representatives of the community resulting in the ability to exchange the information and necessity to develop the new methods of communication including language. Therefore, the observation of the behavior of the apes proves the idea that the need to interact with the others and the capacity to comprehend and imitate the actions rather than vocalization contributed to the evolution of language.
The recent investigation revealed that visible gestures are more natural methods of conveying the meaning and ideas than the speech as the means of communication. The signs and gestures are a natural way of communication revealing the significance of the visual communication in the development of language. It was researched that “late appearance of a fully modern vocal tract and the early appearance of fully modern upper extremities” proves that the primary methods of communication were connected with the visual conveyance of the ideas (Armstrong 289). The primatological evidence provides the proof of the concept that the spoken language was a result of the visual interaction between people. The late development of the vocal tract proves that the language first appeared as the visual communication.
The application of gestures by deaf people proves that the primary means of communication is the visual perception of the information signifying the ability of the signs to be the sufficient tool for interaction. The study of “Nicaraguan sign language” proved that signing allowed to develop the linguistic system of the signers (Armstrong 305). The ability to use the sign language as a separate method of communication contributes to the idea that the gestures as the visual form of communication influenced the evolution of language.
The other example of the visual communication includes various paintings and images depicting scenes from the everyday life and different objects. “The art of the show caves of Lascaux and Altamira” was not entertainment, but a means of communication (Berghaus 110). The social context of these images implies the ability of the prehistoric people to use the symbols and pictures as the means of interaction between the humans and the generations. Although it is impossible to determine the definite meaning of the images, their existence performs the desire and ability of the humans to represent the thoughts and ideas using the visual depiction of the world. These paintings provided the opportunity to develop the social networks and guarantee the information exchange. The introduction of these images implies the necessity to convey the ideas which means that people attempted to use various methods of communication to create the interaction between the representatives of the prehistoric society. Such a depiction influenced the development of the language changing the perception of the real world by the prehistoric people and their way of communication.
Although the paintings in the caves qualify as the art, they have their social and communicative functions. Art “played a crucial role in these increasingly complex social networks” because it contributed to the improvement of the social interactions unifying the representatives of various social groups, decreasing the conflicts, and creating a particular mode of comprehension (Berghaus 7). The symbolic meaning of these paintings could be revealed by the assessment, observation, and interpretation by the other representatives of the prehistoric society signifying the meaning of the images as the method of communication. For example, the symbolic communication contributed to the creation of the supportive attitude to females and the distribution of the social roles of two genders. The depiction of the everyday activities displayed the perception of the gender roles. Thus, these pictures reflected the values and standards of the social cooperation. Such a necessity to interact resulted in the development of language as the means of conveying the meaning of the visual objects in the verbal form.
Thus, the development of language is a significant question in modern history. The prehistoric visual communication played a considerable role in the development of language because it enhanced the interaction between people and made them improve their communicative abilities and skills. The visual communication comprises the use of gestures and images to convey the ideas and thoughts. The observation of the apes’ behavior and their use of the body movements proves that social interaction is a significant means of communication. Their ability to interact using gestures implies that prehistoric people applied the visual communication to develop their language skills using the gestures as pantomime first and then expanding its function making it the principal tool of interaction. Also, the observation of the mirror neurons and the identification that modern vocal tract appeared later proved that the language evolved from the gestures. The primatological evidence provides the proof of the concept that the spoken language was a result of the visual interaction between people. The application of the sign language by deaf people contributes to the understanding of the ability of this means of communication to be a sufficient tool for interaction. Moreover, the other method of visual communication, paintings, proves that visual presentation of the world by the prehistoric people influence considerably on the development of language allowing them to convey their ideas from the images in the form of verbal interaction. The application of the visual communication affected the evolution of language considerably because the use of signs, gestures, and pictures enhanced their understanding of the necessity to interact with each other.
Arbib, Michael A. et al. “Primate Vocalization, Gesture, And The Evolution Of Human Language.” Current Anthropology, vol 49, no. 6, 2008, pp. 1053-1076.
Armstrong, David F. “The Gestural Theory Of Language Origins.” Sign Language Studies, vol 8, no. 3, 2008, pp. 289-314.
Berghaus, Günter. New Perspectives On Prehistoric Art. Westport, CT, Praeger, 2004.
Chandler, Daniel, and Rod Munday. A Dictionary Of Media And Communication, 2016.
Corballis, Michael C. “Mirror Neurons And The Evolution Of Language.” Brain And Language, vol 112, no. 1, 2010, pp. 25-35.
Stevenson, Angus. The Oxford Dictionary Of English. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.
Tallerman, Maggie, and Kathleen R. Gibson, eds. The Oxford handbook of language evolution. Oxford University Press, 2012.