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

Theories of symbolization and development

Chris Sinha

An interdisciplinary approach to human symbolic evolution draws upon psychological, semiotic, and social theory, as well as upon evolutionary biology. This chapter provides a historical and theoretical overview of main trends in the theory of signs, and examines the fusion of semiotic, psychological, and biological themes in the classic works of genetic psychology.

Contemporary semiotic theory, as well as some key issues in the philosophy of language, have their origins in the work of three major figures at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Charles Sanders Peirce attempted to found a general theory of knowledge upon his analysis of the nature and function of signs in cognition and communication; he introduced the term 'semiotics', and can also be considered as the founder of pragmatics. The logician Gottlob Frege introduced the distinction between sense and reference which was one of the major foundations of analytic philosophy. Ferdinand de Saussure, the founder of structural linguistics, analysed language as a system of 'signifying differences', in which the value of an element is dependent upon its relations with other elements.

More recently, analyses of language as a communicative vehicle - as pragmatic instrument, that is - have been coupled with criticisms of the way in which traditional linguistic theory treats language as an abstract object independently of use and of context. The theoretical contributions of Mead, Bakhtin, and Barthes provide important insights into the role of language in the creation and maintenance of social life.

Freud, Piaget, and Vygotsky - the three principal figures in the foundation of 'genetic psychology' - were all concerned, in elaborating their theories, to understand processes which can be conceived at one and the same time as semiotic, cognitive, and biological. These three psychologists employed concepts from Darwinian (and, in the cases of Freud and Piaget, Lamarckian) evolutionary theory to fashion their observations of child development (and, in the case of Freud, of clinical symptoms) into integrated theories in which human nature, culture and society, and semiotic and cognitive processes are treated as evolutionary and developmental phenomena.