Evolutionary semantics: Using NSM to model stages in human cognitive evolution

Cliff Goddard*, Anna Wierzbicka, Horacio Fabréga

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Citations (Scopus)


    This study seeks to make a contribution to evolutionary science. It shows how the Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) system of semantic-conceptual representation, developed for modern humans, can be "reverse engineered" to produce a plausible model of cognitive evolution from the time of the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and chimpanzees. We posit six stages of cognitive development, each with its own distinct repertoire of conceptual primes. The progression between the stages is seen as driven by natural selection in the service of enhanced cognitive operations for biological problem solving under changing anatomical, behavioural, environmental and social conditions. The paper draws on a range of evidence and leading ideas from archaeology, paleoanthropology and primatology.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)60-79
    Number of pages20
    JournalLanguage Sciences
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


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