Monday 9 October, 2017, 4.30-6.00 PM (Sala Enzo Paci, Via Festa del Perdono, 7)

Andrea Scarantino (Georgia State University): "Could emotional expressions have been building blocks for language evolution?"

Abstract: How did the information words carry emerge from natural varieties of information? Charles Darwin was among the first to suggest that emotional expressions may have laid the foundations for the emergence of language. The question is: How? The aim of this talk is to introduce a new framework for the study of emotional expressions I call the Theory of Affective Pragmatics (TAP). As linguistic pragmatics focuses on what utterances mean in a context, affective pragmatics focuses on what emotional expressions mean in a context. TAP develops and connects two principal insights. The first is the insight that emotional expressions do much more than simply expressing emotions. As proponents of the Behavioral Ecology View of facial movements have long emphasized, bodily displays carry natural information about the signaler’s intentions and requests. The second insight TAP aims to articulate and apply to emotional expressions is that it is possible to engage in analogs of speech acts without using language at all. I will argue that there are important and so far largely unexplored similarities between what we can “do” with words sensu Austin-Searle and what we can “do” with emotional expressions. In particular, the core tenet of TAP is that emotional expressions, by virtue of the natural information they carry, are a means of not only expressing what’s inside, but also of directing other people’s behavior, of representing what the world is like and of committing to future courses of action. Since these are some of the main things we can “do” with words, the take home message of my talk is that, from a communicative point of view, most of what we can do with language we can also do with non-verbal emotional expressions. I conclude by exploring some reasons why, despite the analogies I have highlighted, emotional expressions are much less powerful communicative tools than speech acts.