The paper critiques the argument of Michael Tomasello’s Cultural Origins of Human Cognition (1999). This culture-first theory is judged to be a good sketch of how nature predisposes humans for talk. Above all, this is because if language mediated ‘perspective-taking’ depends on cultural process, no innate linguistic representations are necessary in learning to talk. Unfortunately, the model is flawed by Tomasello’s claims for a putative species-specific competency. Rather than posit a simulation mechanism to link orthodox views of language with Gricean models of communication, I follow Dennett in treating ‘intentions’ as folk constructs. Talking, on this view, arises from encultured contextualizing. Situated, embodied activity turns infants into perspective-takers who, far from learning or acquiring ‘forms’, slowly become persons. Gradually, the infant’s developing social capacities produce activity that invites others to attribute linguistic knowledge to the child.
- language acquisition
- Tomasello, M.