The Natural Origin of Language  

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"'All language, by the nature of its 'transferring' relation to reality ... is fundamentally metaphorical. Metaphor is not something special and exceptional..It is the omnipresent principle' of all language...All languages contain deeply embedded metaphorical structures which covertly influence overt meaning'. 'Metaphor in short is the way language works. A metaphor is made out of and it makes those realities (of life and language).. Metaphor is at the centre of language that the process of metaphor is located at the heart of language and indeed defines and refines it, and thus man himself, remains the central stance of most Twentieth Century writers on the subject and their overriding preoccupation" (Brook-Rose 1958, Hawkes 1972, Richards 1936, Black 1954). Much of what is quoted above is taken from I.A. Richards' The Philosophy of Rhetoric." --The Natural Origin of Language (2012) by Robin Allott [In fact, almost every citation stems from Hawkes 1972, JWG]

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Natural Origin of Language: The Structural Inter-relation of Language, Visual Perception and Action (2012) is a book by Robin Allott on the origin of language. The book's central thesis is that "words [...] are not arbitrary [...] but derive directly from, evolutionarily and physiologically, and are integrated with, perception and action, the other main components of total human behaviour." The assertion that the linguistic sign is not arbitrary, goes against de Saussure.



  • "The Grammar of Vision" by Richard Gregory
  • "All language is fundamentally metaphorical". --I.A. Richards' The Philosophy of Rhetoric
  • "no road leads from grammar to metaphysics" --Max Black
  • Edward Burnett Tylor in Primitive Culture: "words, whilst preserving so to speak the same skeleton, may be made to follow the variation of sound, of force, of duration, an imitative group will show;- crick, creak, crack, crash, crush, crunch, craunch, scrunch, scraunch."
  • "The word falls, one is tempted to explain, into a mould of my mind prepared for it" --early Wittgenstein, fuller excerpt from The Blue and the Brown Books: '“The word falls”, one is tempted to explain, “into a mould of my mind long prepared for it.” But as I don't perceive both the word and a mould, the metaphor of the word's fitting a mould can't allude to an experience of comparing the hollow and the solid shape before they are fitted together, but rather to an experience of seeing the solid shape accentuated by a particular background.'
  • Locke notes that there cannot be any natural connexion between particular articulate sounds and certain ideas, "for then there would be but one language amongst all men"
  • Bishop Wilkins in his Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language comments rather sadly: "It were exceedingly desirable that the names of things might consist of such sounds as should bear in them some analogy to their natures; and the figure and character of their names should bear some proper resemblance to those sounds that men might easily guess at the sense or meaning of any name or word, upon the first hearing or sight of it. But how this can be done in all the particular species of things I understand not, and therefore shall take it for granted that this character must be by institution".



"The positive debts [...] have been the ideas of Karl Lashley [...] on the structural relation between speech, vision and action [...]. One might repeat here his observation that "the study of comparative grammar is not the most direct approach to the physiology of the cerebral cortex yet speech is the only window through which the physiologist can view cerebral life... language presents in a most striking form the integrative functions that are characteristic of the cerebral cortex". Other important sources have been Lenneberg's pioneering Biological Foundations of Language with its discussion of children's acquisition of language as a maturational process within a critical period, Richard Gregory's stimulating ideas on the 'grammar of vision' and his speculation that language and vision are indeed based on common ground and the basic problems of both must be solved together. Last but far from least, Konrad Lorenz's(11) broad approach to the development and integration of animal and human behaviour as well as his study of the vitally important process of 'imprinting, that is, genetically-programmed neurological development, making it possible for the cerebral structures of the animal (or human being) to be modified, after birth, to match the specific environment, social or physical, to which the individual is in fact exposed."

Chapter 1

The Sound Shape of Language is a book by Roman Jakobson and ‎Linda R. Waugh

“such as the patterning of phonemes in terms of distinctive features, are innate" --Hans-Lukas Teuber

Chapter 6

Deals with comparative linguistics.

Chapter 7

"- at the word level and at the sentence level, the integration between speech, vision and action operates equivalently. Each primitive word (that is, each word whose meaning is learnt from experience and not solely from explanation in terms of other words) has directly associated with it visual or action contours which indicate or give a natural clue to the meaning of the word. There is evidence for all languages of awareness of a natural relation between word-sound and word-meaning (sound symbolism) and considerable evidence that, for all except tonal languages, some kind of sound symbolism operates. "The word falls, one is tempted to explain", according to the early Wittgenstein, "into a mould of my mind prepared for it"."[2] Robin Allott


"This view of the way in which perception provides us with reliable knowledge of the world seems fully compatible with the accounts given by Whitehead, Merleau-Ponty and Lorenz: namely that perception is reliable because it constitutes experience from within the system of nature by an element in that system (the human being) of his relations with the whole of nature of which he is part (Whitehead); that perception should be given back its primary importance in philosophy; that the reliability of perception derives from the human being as the 'body-subject', from the mixture of the world and ourselves which precedes all reflection (Merleau-Ponty); that the perceiving subject and the perceived object are equally real, all knowledge derives from the interaction between them and the reliability of our perception is the result of the evolution of the human cognitive apparatus to adapt to the equally real things in the external world (Lorenz). For the human race, the Kantian forms of understanding have, as a result of evolutionary development, become embodied in our neurological and physiological structures. For Kant, human understanding 'prescribes its laws to nature' - but evolution, developing nature, had much earlier in biological history 'prescribed' to the human mind its categories and functioning, to accord with the real world."
"Two quotations, from Wittgenstein and from Saint-John Perse, particularly about the poetic use of language: "Worte eines Dichters können uns durch und durch gehen" (Wittgenstein Zettel) and "Du savant comme du poéte, la pensée desintéressée. Car l'interrogation est la même qu'ils tiennent sur un même abîme et seuls leurs modes d'investigation diffèrent. Cette nuit originelle où tâtonnent deux aveugles-nés: le mystère est commun"

See also

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