Section 1


Outline of Human Phylogeny

Evolutionary Trees
and DNA

Brain Evolution

Hand and Bipedality

Section 2
Social and socio-
cultural systems

Primate societies

Social relations and the evolution of culture

Social relations, communication and cognition

Human socio-cultural patterns

Tools and symbolic behaviour

Palaeolithic Art

Contemporary hunter-gatherer art

Section 3
Ontogeny and symbolism

Editorial Introduction: Ontogeny & Phylogeny

The role of ontogenesis

Brain, cognition, and language

Early interaction and cognitive skills

Language and thought

Theories of symbolization
and development

Children's drawings and the evolution of art

Section 4
Language systems

Spoken language and
sign language

The gestural primacy hypothesis

Comparative cognition

Animal language and cognition

Language acquisition


The prehistory of grammar

Writing systems


Links Policy

Relevant Links

Social relations, communication, and cognition.

Andrew Lock and Kim Symes

The human body can be used to communicate either by itself or as a support for a number of 'props'. Bodily communication is often emotional in nature, relying on underlying physiological and physical responses. What evokes these responses is generally learned, and varies across cultures. Expressive repertoires are used to mark social roles and power. These are also marked by using the body as a 'prop' for various adornments, such as tattooing or clothing. The use of body mutilation is related to the permanence of status assignment of individuals in a society, being generally absent from complex, mobile societies, where temporary adornments such as jewellery or clothing take on a larger burden for marking social roles.

The marking of social roles is also reflected in language forms. Many societies have different forms of male and female speech. Female forms of speech tend to be more conservative than male forms, and reflective of 'prestigious' styles used by high status groups. Status, or social power, is widely marked by particular speech-forms in socially stratified societies. Speakers also shift their speech-forms in predictable ways across different social situations, thus marking a society's construction of social contexts.

A number of indices of a society's complexity or 'differentiation' have been put forward. These indicate a trend for societies to become more complex over time; but as they become more complex their elements become less cohesively integrated. This is not a simple relationship, but one involving factors such as an individual's ability to use the resources provided by more complex social organizations to assay novel activities, and to promote the formation of subcultures. Hunter-gatherer societies tend to have low social complexity, while agricultural ones show increasing degrees of complexity. Family structures tend to be related to food-procurement strategies, being of an 'extended' type mainly in sedentary, agricultural societies. Food-accumulation practices also show a relationship to child-rearing practices, tending to emphasize compliance in agricultural societies versus assertion in hunter-gatherer ones.

Social structure, language, thought, 'individuality', and child-rearing practices are elements of human life that have been claimed as interrelated. A central notion in these interrelationships is 'shared presuppositionality'. The essential argument is that high levels of shared knowledge, such as would hold among members of small-scale, undifferentiated societies and in those where social roles are rigidly marked, reduce the need for highly explicit linguistic coding of information for effective communication. The elements of language, both grammatical and lexical, reflect social needs. Less 'elaborated' linguistic structures provide fewer resources for the handling of complex problem-solving the view not that language determines thought, but that it provides the equivalent of a problem-solving 'tool-kit', variously facilitating or hindering certain forms of problem formulation and solution. Both language and social structure also mediate child-rearing practices, and hence the process of cultural reproduction. These interrelations have been explored in a number of studies which stem from different theoretical stances, making the comparison of results difficult. But, while at this point in time it is not possible to specify the exact nature of these interrelationships, their broad outlines can be perceived. These suggest that claims as to the availability of complex language in Upper Palaeolithic societies may be unwarranted, as the relatively simple structure of these societies would have promoted high levels of presuppositionality among their members, enabling effective interpersonal communication to be conducted with quite restricted forms of symbolic language.