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A cross-cultural approach to body symbolism’, in Implicit Meanings,

In one sense the proposed evolutionary sequence is an exercise in interpolation not unlike
many other efforts that have attempted to construct a credible case for the emergence of
particular morphological and behavioral features in various species. But in another it is a
structural theory that confronts the question of how many processing levels must be interposed
between the nonsymbolic cognitions of animals, and the fully symbolic representations of
humans. Symbolic representation is the principal cognitive signature of humans, and the main
phenomenon whose arrival on the scene has to be accounted for in any scenario of human
The theory posits a series of radical evolutionary changes– the punctuations, as it were,
in punctuated equilibrium–rather than a continuous or unitary process. I do not rule out the
possibility, indeed the likelihood, of smaller graduated changes that might also have occurred
during the long period of human emergence; but judging from the anatomical and cultural
remains left by hominids and early humans, the most important evolutionary steps were
concentrated into a few transition periods when the process of change was greatly accelerated,
and these major transitions introduced fundamentally new capacities.
I have made certain hard choices–for instance, I have opted for a late-language model,
placing language near the end of the human evolutionary story rather than much earlier, as
Parker & Gibson (1979), and Bickerton (1990) have. For another, I have opted for a lexicallydriven model of language evolution, rather than placing the main emphasis on phonology as
Lieberman (1984) has, or on grammar as Bickerton (1990) has. In fact I have portrayed our
capacity for lexical invention as a single pivotal adaptation capable of evolving into an
instrument of sufficient power to support all of the higher aspects of language.