Centre for Language Evolution Studies

Kontakt Faculty of Languages
Collegium Maius, Room 26,
ul. Fosa Staromiejska 3, 87-100 Toruń

Perspectives on pantomime: evolution, development, interaction

In current language evolution research, the importance of pantomime is highlighted in several highly influential accounts of language origins, such Donald’s theory of mimesis (1991, 2001), Arbib’s Mirror System Hypothesis (Arbib 2005, 2012, 2016, Arbib et al., 2018) and Tomasello’s (2008) proposal that language was bootstrapped by two types of “natural human gesture” – pointing and pantomiming. These contributions galvanized research into pantomime, which was conducted from a broad interdisciplinary perspective characteristic of modern language origins. The idea for this workshop is to present the state-of-the-art of the research on pantomime that grows out of contemporary language origins research.

This research involves definitional and conceptual analysis (e.g. Abramova 2018, Żywiczyński et al. 2018, Wacewicz & Żywiczyński 2021), theoretical works dedicated to the study of specific problems (e.g. the neural infrastructure of pantomimic communication; Arbib 2018), the role of bodily-visual communication in the evolution of pedagogy (Gärdenfors 2017) and narration (Ferretti et al. 2017), or the semiotic status of pantomime (Zlatev et al. 2020). We have also seen a growing number of empirical studies, devoted to a range of problems and using various methodologies. There have been experimental-semiotic studies (e.g. Zlatev et al. 2017, Boruta-Żywiczyńska and Placiński 2020), also including cross-cultural studies (Żywiczyński et al. submitted), studies with children (Lister et al. 2020) and special populations (e.g. people with autism: Adornetti et al. 2019; or with apraxia: Buxbaum et al. 2014). Pantomime has also been studied by means of naturalistic observation in the context of emerging sign languages (Sandler 2012, Mineiro et al. 2017), language acquisition (Marentette et al. 2020), and pantomime-like behaviours of nonhuman apes (Russon 2018).

The seminar brings together the broad interdisciplinary research on pantomime, including the following topics:

  • pantomime as an evolutionary precursor of language
  • pantomime as a distinct form of bodily-visual communication (e.g. distinct from gesture in the narrow sense, McNeill 1992, 2012), and hence pantomimic conceptions of language origin are distinct both from gesture-first and gesture-plus-speech theories (e.g. Hewes 1973, Armstrong et al. 1995, Corballis 2012; see Wacewicz and Żywiczyński 2021 for the explication of these differences)
  • the investigation of pantomime in modern humans as providing insights on earlier, bootstrapping stages of language evolution (Żywiczyński et al. 2021)
  • pantomime as a communicative system used by modern humans, which is important for the understanding of modern human communication and cognition (see e.g. Marentette et al. 2020).



Thursday, Nov 18 Friday, Nov 19
09.45-10.00 Introduction
10:00–11:00 Michael Arbib Wacewicz & Żywiczyński
11:00–12:00 Ana Mineiro Cornelia Müller
12:00–13:00 Lunch Lunch
13:00–14:00 Jordan Zlatev Peter Gärdenfors
14:00–15:00 Francesco Ferretti Marta Sibierska et al.
15:00–15:30 Coffe break Coffe break
15:30–16:30 Anne Russon Steven Brown
16:30–17:30 Laurel Buxbaum Paula Marentette
17:30–17:45 Break Break
17:45–18:30 Round table 1 Round table 2


Wednesday, Nov 17

Details TBA

DAY ONE: Thursday, Nov 18

Michael Arbib

Pantomime’s partially parting paths

Ana Mineiro

What pantomime can tell us about emergent signs of a newborn language

Jordan Zlatev, Marta Sibierska and Przemyslaw Żywiczyński

Pantomime and the origins of narrative

Francesco Ferretti, Ines Adornetti and Alessandra Chiera

Narrative pantomime and the origins of language

Anne E. Russon

Pantomime in great apes and other non-human primates: qualities and prevalence

Laurel J. Buxbaum

Shared and distinct neurocognitive processes in language and tool use actions: evidence from stroke lesion studies


Details TBA

DAY TWO: Friday, Nov 19

Sławomir Wacewicz and Przemysław Żywiczyński

Through pantomime to language – from transparency to efficiency

Cornelia Müller


Peter Gärdenfors

The role of pantomime in teaching

Marta Sibierska, Przemysław Żywiczyński, Sławomir Wacewicz and Monika Boruta

What’s in a mime? How formal features of pantomime influence its communicative success: an exploratory analysis

Steven Brown

The pantomimic origins of the narrative arts

Paula Marentette

Pantomime use in children: Symbolic or pragmatic?



A post-conference volume will be published by John Benjamins in the series Topics in Interaction Studies https://www.jbe-platform.com/content/journals/15720381
A contribution should be 8 000 words in length, including references.
Please, follow the publisher’s guidelines when writing your contribution
In case of questions, contact johan.blomberg@umk.pl or przemek@umk.pl



Please, refer to https://www.gov.pl/web/coronavirus/temporary-limitations for information about the latest COVID-related travel restrictions.



The organisation of the seminar is supported by the Polish National Science Centre (NCN) under grant agreement UMO-2017/27/B/HS2/00642.