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The grammar of prehistoric non-figurative representations

Grant number: 23/03196-5
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctoral
Effective date (Start): August 01, 2023
Effective date (End): July 31, 2025
Field of knowledge:Interdisciplinary Subjects
Principal Investigator:Shigeru Miyagawa
Grantee:Vitor Augusto Nóbrega
Host Institution: Instituto de Biociências (IB). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:18/18900-1 - Innovations in human and non-human animal communities, AP.SPEC


This project is coordinated by Dr. Shigeru Miyagawa [1], a linguist, who will also supervise the candidate alongside Dr. Mercedes Okumura [2], expert in human biocultural evolution and associated researcher in the SPEC project. A copy of the project can be obtained, upon request to the e-mail above.The question of when human linguistic competence emerged has intrigued archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and linguists for generations. In search of evidence indicating the appearance of a linguistically mediated behavior, researchers have turned to the symbolic material culture of African Middle Stone Age humans. There is a broad consensus across these disciplines that symbolic behavior and language are intimately connected, and the production of symbolic artifacts is consequently viewed as evidence for the availability of a linguistic competence. However, the conceptual link between symbolic behavior and language is still, to a great extent, speculative and calls for more convincing arguments. This project will address this theoretical gap head-on by creating an original formal methodology for comparing these apparently heterogeneous human symbolic expressions - prehistoric engravings and language -, with the aim of minimizing the vagueness of the archaeological inferences made thus far. Its primary goal is to determine, in a principled way, whether the abstract geometric patterns of prehistoric non-figurative engravings signal the availability of a formal grammar parallel to that observed in present-day human language. (AU)

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