Turn-taking and the pragmatic origins of language

Levinson, S. C. (2015). Turn-taking and the pragmatic origins of language. Talk presented at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference. Antwerp, Belgium. 2015-07-26 - 2015-07-31.
Within the confines of this mini-plenary I’ll try to sketch how turn-taking may have played a crucial role
in molding the origins and shape of language. First, I’ll run through some of our recent findings that
reveal the intensive cognitive processing that underlies turn-taking – measuring response-timing, gaze,
the acoustics, breathing, and EEG. These findings suggest that the turn-taking system stretches cognitive
processing to the limit. Asking why the system is the way it is, I’ll advance the argument that language as
we now know it may have emerged from the growth of a rich information-encoding system in the context
of an antecedent turn-taking system, so that increasingly complex messages became squeezed into short
turns, with the consequence of extreme compression, inference enrichment of the Gricean kind, tendency
for fixed word orders, etc. Some support for this account can also be found in ontogenetic and
phylogenetic studies of turn-taking.
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