Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Displaced Reference

  • Jill P. MorfordEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_3304-1


The use of language to refer to entities and events that are spatially and temporally removed from the context of language use


A defining characteristic of human language is the ability to communicate about entities and events that are spatially and temporally displaced from the communicative act (Hockett 1960). Species-typical communication of nonhuman animals concerns the immediate present. Species-typical communication in humans, by contrast, frequently evokes entities and events that are unrelated to the context of communication. Human language even allows individuals to refer to purely imaginary and even impossible events. Investigations of this function of human language inform scientific debates about language development as well as the cognitive and social determinants of the human language capacity.

Development of Displaced Reference

The ability to make displaced reference provides enormous evolutionary advantages. Humans can transport their...

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© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA