UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Linguistics Seminar - Prof Bar-On

06 June 2023, 4:00 pm–5:30 pm

Linguistics seminar

Pragmatics: Language, Animal Communication, and ‘Protolanguage’

Event Information

Open to



Richard Jardine


Chandler House
2 Wakefield Street
WC1n 1PF
United Kingdom

Pragmatics: Language, Animal Communication, and ‘Protolanguage’

Several theorists of language evolution agree that “language as we know it had to be preceded by something intermediate between true language and an ACS [animal communication system]” (Bickerton 2009). This hypothetical evolutionary intermediary has been referred to as “Protolanguage”. Recently, animal communication theorists have argued that we should pursue a ‘pragmatics-first’ approach to the evolution of language. This gives rise to the question what sense we could give to the idea of a pragmatic  Protolanguage.  After distinguishing two different ways ‘pragmatics’ has been construed – one ‘Carnapian’, the other ‘Gricean’ – I consider a candidate ‘intermediary’ conception, inspired by recent work on formal ‘monkey linguistics’ (due to Schlenker et al.). I argue that Schlenker et al.’s analysis is not fit to serve the purposes of pragmatics-first approaches. Understanding why can help point us in the direction of a better – psychologically based – construal of intermediate pragmatics.

About the Speaker

Prof Dorit Bar-On

at University of Connecticut

More about Prof Dorit Bar-On