Article published in:Tracking Language Evolution as an Interdisciplinary, Cross-Theoretical Enterprise
Edited by Livio Gaeta
[Evolutionary Linguistic Theory 2:2] 2020
► pp. 138–152
Reconsidering subjectification from the perspective of animal signalling
This paper discusses the view that subjectifications (i.e. semantic changes through which words come to index speakers’ evaluations or their attitudes towards a proposition) are primarily motivated by speakers’ need for self-expression (Traugott 2010). Approaching the issue from the perspective of animal signalling (Krebs & Dawkins 1984), we propose that semantic subjectifications are at least equally likely to reflect evaluations and attitudes read into utterances by listeners who attempt to read speakers’ minds. We compare speaker-based and listener-based theories with regard to their predictions, sketch ways in which they can be tested and report findings from first attempts at doing so. First, we report evidence from diachronic corpora. Second, we describe a game-theoretic model that relates listener’s interest in speaker intentions to the average degree of speaker-honesty in a population. Third, we report preliminary results of an experiment in which we tested if listeners were more likely to interpret an utterance as indexing speaker subjectivity when they perceived speakers as more powerful. We conclude that the listener-based hypothesis of subjectification is solid enough to warrant further investigation.
Keywords: subjectification, semantic change, animal communication, game theory, theory of mind
Published online: 15 January 2021
Dennett, D. C.
Engelmann, J. M., Herrmann, E., & Tomasello, M.
Grossman, E. & Polis, S.
Krebs, J. R. & Dawkins, R.
Nowak, M. A.
Schwenter, S. A. & Waltereit, R.[ p. 152 ]
Traugott, E. C.
Wobber, V., Herrmann, E., Hare, B., Wrangham, R. & Tomasello, M.
Woensdregt, M. & Smith, K.
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