Originary Sign

From Generative Anthropology

The originary sign was the first sign, and thus the origin of language. It was a deliberate, collective repetition of the aborted gesture of appropriation.


On the originary scene, the aborted gesture of appropriation was instinctually issued out of fear of an impending mimetic conflict. This gesture does not become the originary sign until, after observing the symmetry of the group in issuing of the aborted gesture of appropriation, the gesture is then deliberately and collectively repeated, signaling to others in the group that they have nothing to fear or to defend against, while designating the central object of desire as the cause of this deferral. This is the originary template for joint shared attention.


The originary sign was an ostensive sign, "pointing" to the central object of desire. All subsequent language use is derivative of the originary sign, meaning that since its origin, language has always been deferring violence by "pointing" to some center. After the being used on the originary scene, once it is known that use of the originary sign can prevent potential dangerous situations, it becomes possible to identify somewhat less potentially dangerous situations and issue the sign in such situations. This is the way objects and acts would come to be named, and signs differentiated from each other. The process of signs becoming more commonplace is known as the lowering of the threshold of significance.

Paradox is fundamental to the originary sign: the originary sign inaugurates signficance while designating the central object of desire as already significant.


Gans, E. L., Katz, A. L. (2019). The Origin of Language: A New Edition