CfP: Interaction and Iconicity in the Evolution of Language

Following the ICLC theme session on “Cognitive Linguistics and the Evolution of Language” last year,  I’m guest-editing a Special Issue of the journal Interaction Studies together with Michael Pleyer, James Winters, and Jordan Zlatev. This volume, entitled “Interaction and Iconicity in the Evolution of Language: Converging Perspectives from Cognitive and Evolutionary Linguistics”, will focus on issues that emerged as common themes during the ICLC workshop.

Although many contributors to the theme session have already agreed to submit a paper, we would like to invite a limited number of additional contributions relevant to the topic of the volume. Here’s our Call for Papers.

CfP: Interaction and Iconicity in the Evolution of Language – Converging perspectives from cognitive and evolutionary linguistics


Language evolution research has been a highly interdisciplinary enterprise from the outset (cf. e.g. Christiansen & Kirby 2003; Tallerman & Gibson 2012). However, it is only recently that language evolution researchers have begun to thoroughly engage with the implications of different approaches and frameworks within linguistics for studying the origins of language. For instance, a variety of researchers have begun to explore the potential of the broad framework of cognitive linguistics for informing approaches to language evolution. Two theme sessions at the International Cognitive Linguistics Conference (ICLC) in 2010 and 2015, respectively, have been dedicated to this issue. The latter workshop has given rise to an upcoming Special Issue of the journal “Interaction Studies”, to be guest-edited by Michael Pleyer, James Winters, Stefan Hartmann, and Jordan Zlatev.

In addition to the papers presented at the theme session, we would like to invite further contributions exploring the origins of language from the perspective of cognitive linguistics. The topics of interaction, intersubjectivity and iconicity will be in the focus of interest. The papers at the ICLC theme session have shown that these aspects are particularly well-suited for discussing points of convergence between cognitive and evolutionary linguistics.

The relevance of social cognition and interaction in the evolution of language has attracted considerable attention in recent years (cf. e.g. Tomasello et al. 2005; Levinson 2006; Scott-Phillips 2015, among many others). As Knight (2000: 19) points out, language “evolved in the context of uniquely human strategies of social cooperation.” Similarly, the role of interpersonal and interactional factors in language acquisition, language use, and language change has come to the centre of attention in a variety of cognitive-linguistic and usage-based approaches (e.g. Tomasello 2003; Verhagen 2005; Croft 2009; Evans 2015). Therefore, studying interactional and intersubjective aspects of language in more detail provides an ideal basis for expanding on recent efforts to bring together cognitive linguistics and language evolution research (cf. e.g. Pleyer & Winters 2014).

This leads us to the second major topic, the emergence of structure in language. Both cognitive and evolutionary linguistics emphasise that language structure is not entirely arbitrary. Instead, many aspects of language structure are motivated by extralinguistic factors. One of the most important among these factors is iconicity. In language evolution research, the assumption that iconic signs (in particular, gestures) preceded (partially) arbitrary ones is widespread (cf. e.g. Számadó & Szathmáry 2012: 164). In cognitive linguistics, iconicity has been discussed with regard to syntax and morphology (diagrammatic iconicity; cf. Van Langendonck 2007). From a cognitive-linguistic perspective, iconicity can help explain patterns of cross-linguistic variation as well as frequently observed pathways of language change (cf. e.g. Hopper & Traugott 2003). As such, cognitive-linguistic approaches can also help us solve what Kirby (1999: 20) calls “the problem of linkage”, i.e. the question of how functional preferences give rise to constraints on cross-linguistic variation.

How to submit

If you are interested in contributing a paper to the Special Issue, please send an abstract of approx. 500 words (plus references) to by April 1st, 2016. Notifications of acceptance/rejection will be given by April 15th. Please note that only a very limited number of full papers can be solicited. Papers explicitly linking up cognitive-linguistic concepts with evolutionary considerations will be particularly welcome. Full papers will be subject to independent double-blind peer review.


Christiansen, Morten H. & Simon Kirby (eds.) 2003. Language Evolution (Oxford Studies in the Evolution of Language 3). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Croft, William. 2009. Toward a Social Cognitive Linguistics. In Vyvyan Evans & Stéphanie Pourcel (eds.), New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics (Human Cognitive Processing 24), 395–420. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Dąbrowska, Ewa & Dagmar Divjak (eds.) 2015. Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter.

Evans, Vyvyan. 2015. The Crucible of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hopper, Paul J. 1987. Emergent Grammar. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. 139–157.

Hopper, Paul J. & Elizabeth Closs Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hurford, James R. 1990. Nativist and Functional Explanations in Language Acquisition. In I.M Roca (ed.), Logical Issues in Language Acquisition, 85–136. Dordrecht: Foris.

Kirby, Simon. Function, Selection, and Innateness: The Emergence of Language Universals. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Knight, Chris. 2000. The Evolution of Cooperative Communication. In Chris Knight, Michael Studdert-Kennedy & James R. Hurford (eds.), The Evolutionary Emergence of Languag: Social Function and the Origins of Linguistic Form, 19–26. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Levinson, Stephen C. 2006. On the Human “Interaction Engine”. In Nick J. Enfield & Stephen C. Levinson (eds.), Roots of Human Sociality: Culture, Cognition and Interaction, 39–69. Oxford: Berg.

Pleyer, Michael & James Winters. 2014. Integrating Cognitive Linguistics and Language Evolution Research. Theoria et Historia Scientiarum 11. 19–43.

Scott-Phillips, Thom. 2015. Speaking Our Minds: Why Human Communication is Different, and How Language Evolved to Make It Special. London: Pelgrave.

Számadó, Szabolcs & Szathmári, Eörs. 2012. The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain. In Maggie Tallerman & Kathleen R. Gibson (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution, 157–167. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tallerman, Maggie & Kathleen R. Gibson (eds.). 2012. The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tomasello, Michael. 2003. The Key is Social Cognition. In Dedre Gentner & Susan Goldin-Meadow (eds.), Language in Mind: Advances in the Study of Language and Thought, 47–57. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Tomasello, Michael. 2005. Comment on Daniel Everett: Cultural Constraints on Piraha Grammar. Current Anthropology 46(4). 640–641.

Tomasello, Michael, Melinda Carpenter, Josep Call, Tanya Behne & Henrike Moll. 2005. Understanding and Sharing Intentions: The Origins of Cultural Cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28(5). 675–691.

Van Langendonck, Willy. 2007. Iconicity. In Dirk Geeraerts & Hubert Cuyckens (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics, 394–418. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Verhagen, Arie. 2005. Constructions of intersubjectivity: Discourse, syntax, and cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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