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The origin of human multi-modal communication

Levinson, S. C., & Holler, J. (2014). The origin of human multi-modal communication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences, 369(1651): 2013030. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0302.
One reason for the apparent gulf between animal and human communication systems is that the focus has been on the presence or the absence of language as a complex expressive system built on speech. But language normally occurs embedded within an interactional exchange of multi-modal signals. If this larger perspective takes central focus, then it becomes apparent that human communication has a layered structure, where the layers may be plausibly assigned different phylogenetic and evolutionary origins—especially in the light of recent thoughts on the emergence of voluntary breathing and spoken language. This perspective helps us to appreciate the different roles that the different modalities play in human communication, as well as how they function as one integrated system despite their different roles and origins. It also offers possibilities for reconciling the ‘gesture-first hypothesis’ with that of gesture and speech having evolved together, hand in hand—or hand in mouth, rather—as one system.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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