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Auteur: Paul WILSON

Approach-Avoidance Orientation, Emotion and the Evolution of Language

Abstract/Résumé: This paper provides a further assessment of our thesis that approach orientation and emotion influenced language evolution through their possible facilitation of double-scope blending (Wilson, 2012; Wilson and Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, 2012). Fauconnier and Turner (2002) posit that double-scope blending, which is the most sophisticated type of conceptual integration, evolved about fifty thousand years ago and led to the origin of language. Double-scope blending underlies many features of language, including one word expression blends, two word expression blends, and grammar. To determine whether approach orientation facilitated language evolution one first needs to determine possible evidence for its influence on double-scope blending. A number of experiments have provided some evidence for this. Friedman and Förster (2002), for example, observed that while engaging in arm flexor contraction (i.e., the approach orientation action of pulling the arm towards the body), as opposed to arm extensor contraction (i.e., the avoidance orientation action of pushing the arm away from the body), participants produced relatively more creative uses of a brick, which are likely to engage the more sophisticated double-scope blending that was necessary for language evolution. The broaden-and-build theory (Fredrickson, 1998) posits that the survival chances of our ancestors would have benefited from activities that involved playing, exploring and integrating as these would have allowed them to gain more physical, intellectual, and social resources. It could be further argued that the inherent orientations of approach involved in these activities could have facilitated the evolution of double-scope blending, and, as a consequence, the origin of language. As emotions are deemed conceptual and directed by language (e.g., Barratt, 2006), it is unlikely that they featured in the origin of language. It is possible, however, that if emotions are shown to influence double-scope blending then they could have facilitated the subsequent evolution and development of language. Although no research to date has investigated the effect of emotions on double-scope blending, there is evidence that emotions facilitate metaphor production (e.g., Edwards and Clevenger, 1990). However, as metaphor production can involve both single-scope blending, in which there is a degree of similarity between the source and target domains, and double-scope blending, whereby the source and target domains are very different and combine to produce original, emergent meaning, there is no direct evidence pertaining to whether emotions facilitate double-scope blending, and, as a consequence, could have played a role in language evolution.