The Power of the Word May Reside in the Power of Affect

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Abstract

This commentary on Dan Shanahan's, A New View of Language, Emotion and the Brain, basically agrees with an emotion-based view of the evolutionary and developmental basis of language acquisition. It provides a supplementary neuroscience perspective that is more deeply affective and epigenetic in the sense that all claims about neocortically-based language modules need to be tempered by the existing genetic evidence as well as the robust neuroscience evidence that the cortex resembles random-access-memory space, a tabula rasa upon which epigenetic and learning processes create functional networks. The transition from non-linguistic creatures to linguistic ones may have required the conjunction of social-affective brain mechanisms, morphological changes in the articulatory apparatus, an abundance of cross-modal cortical processing ability, and the initial urge to communicate in coordinate prosodic gestural and vocal ways, which may have been more poetic and musical than current propositional language. There may be no language instinct that is independent of these evolutionary pre-adaptations.

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