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The Prehistory of Language$
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Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199545872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545872.001.0001

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The origins of the lexicon: how a word‐store evolved *

The origins of the lexicon: how a word‐store evolved *

Chapter:
(p.181) 10 The origins of the lexicon: how a word‐store evolved*
Source:
The Prehistory of Language
Author(s):

Maggie Tallerman

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545872.003.0010

The human mental lexicon is the repository of many tens of thousands of distinct vocabulary items, and of stored information about their word classes and their selectional and subcategorization requirements. Even in its simplest form — before the syntactic capacity emerges — the lexicon requires a number of distinctive characteristics to have evolved, such as the ability to link an abstract symbol to the concept it represents, the ability to retrieve lexical items from storage quickly, and for that retrieval to be under voluntary control. This chapter investigates the origins of some of the basic features of the lexicon, focusing on the prerequisites for the production and comprehension of a simple protolanguage. It proposes that a word-based lexicon evolved by building on ancient conceptual categories which are likely shared by many primates. This lexicon also utilized a pre-existing semantic organization, and built on the hierarchical structure already in place in primate cognition.

Keywords:   language development, language capacity, evolution, lexicon, vocabulary, protolanguage, primates, cognition

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