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Part 1 & Prologue: Just Another Species of Big Mammal 
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Post Re: Neanderthal innovation
I suspect part of the reason for that is our human ancestors had to lay quite a bit of ground work before language could emerge.

Consider the gulf that had to be bridged--from the vocalizations and cries of earlier primates to the abstract concepts and symbolization of language. We really did have to learn a whole new way to think about things. It would be fascinating to track the developments from the time we first acquired the mechanical ability for more sophisticated speech, through the earliest inarticulate noises, to the discovery of name-words and meanings, to the idea that words could represent not only the things we saw but the things we imagined and felt, to the realization that words could work together with other words and some ways of putting them together were better than others. And we haven't yet got to full-blown language.

So I think there probably was more going on than we realize.

I also think Diamond is on target in identifying the development of language as one of the chief enablers of the "great leap forward" he talks about.

The Third Chimpanzee is a marvelous piece of work. Jared Diamond has a genuine talent for synthesizing knowledge from a variety of fields and putting it together in ways that make sense. We need more writers with that ability.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker

Edited by: garicker  at: 2/9/07 11:50 am



Thu Feb 08, 2007 2:24 pm
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Post Re: Neanderthal innovation
One of the biggest gaps to bridge was probably the capacity to associate an auditory signal with an idea. I don't think we recognize how novel a thing that really is. The word "people" has always struck me as kind of funny-sounding, so it's one of those words that can easily atune me to how bizarre it is that we associate a given set of sounds with a) something physical and tangible, and further b) some abstraction conceived by imagining the physical and tangible in a context that is not immediately present to us. The German philosopher Ernst Cassirer has some very interesting things to say on that matter, cf. "An Essay on Man".




Thu Feb 08, 2007 5:05 pm
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Post Re: Neanderthal innovation
Mad: One of the biggest gaps to bridge was probably the capacity to associate an auditory signal with an idea. I don't think we recognize how novel a thing that really is.

I suspect the gap was bridged by more than one individual and probably spread like wildfire once our ancestors got the hang of it. But what a leap that was--a genuine "eureka" moment, one of the evolutionary "good tricks" that Daniel Dennett writes about.

It's a fascinating subject. Maybe instead of "thinking" man, the sobriquet should have been "speaking" man. Of course, one hopes thought will accompany speech, but all too often it does not.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker

Edited by: garicker  at: 2/9/07 11:51 am



Thu Feb 08, 2007 8:10 pm
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Post Re: Neanderthal innovation
(ooh, linguistics. My favourite!)

So, how do you all feel about the theories that human language acquisition was similar to how a child acquires language today?

Born with thoughts, undefined, followed by intake of a lot of stimuli -- sights, sounds, some with linguistic meaning, some with other kinds of meaning, some with none. Then the first attempts at communicating -- sounds alone (and in an order of, to simplify, easiest to produce to harder, front of the mouth to back), then words alone -- often standing in for whole groups ('dog' to refer to dogs, cats, horses, cows). Then words grouped in the simplest of grammars (here there's the parallel with the pidgin trade languages), then the slow but steady acquisition of the complex grammar of the native tongue.

Language is an amazing thing. And whatever it is that we humans have, our children seem to be born with it. Any child can learn any language, given the input of interactive stimuli. If you speak English to your child, your partner speaks Romanian, your daytime babysitter only speaks Spanish, and you send your child to a French school...chances are, after a period of some linguistic confusion, your child will have the basis of all 4 languages.

One interesting idea about child language acquisition is that kids do not learn from negative evidence. Which means, you can't correct a child's grammar. They just don't hear it. They'll generalize a rule "He see'ed the dog", and until they learn the exception to that rule, they'll ignore any attempts on the part of parents to correct it. "Honey, he saw the dog." "That's what I said, he see'ed the dog."

I wonder how that fits into the idea of early human language acquisition?

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Celebrating the Absurd




Tue Feb 13, 2007 2:06 am
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Post Re: Neanderthal innovation
Loricat: So, how do you all feel about the theories that human language acquisition was similar to how a child acquires language today?

I'm a bit skeptical. A human child born today comes into an environment in which language and language usage are the norm. It also benefits from a certain amount of programming that has occurred over tens of thousands of years as our species has learned about words and how to use them.

Of course, this is all very speculative.

We know that most animal species communicate through various postures, vocalizations and the like. Primates, particularly those other chimps we are related to, are very expressive in the range of sounds and gestures they make to convey wants and emotions.

Once our distant ancestors had begun to use bipedal motion, vocalizations and hand motions were probably the first types of communication. At some point we evolved a voice-box that allowed for a greater range of sounds, hence more distinctive communications.

Then came the big leap of associating certain sounds with objects. This would have been followed by a relatively long period of enrichment as various sounds were added to the human "vocabulary." At the same time our brains were getting better at differentiating between the various sounds and identifying them. At some point we made the great leap to concept formation, to the idea of ideas. But I suspect a long period of development would have been necessary before we got to that point.

Then we would have begun to develop a vocabulary that was closer to the sort of vocabularies we use today. At the same time we would have learned about how to put words together and combine them to convey even more complex meanings.

I think all of this groundwork would have had to have been completed before Diamond's "great leap forward."

Language was humankind's great gift to itself. But I think the process by which we acquired it must have been fundamentally different than the process by which human children learn it today.

After all, our ancestors had to make it up as they went along.

But, I say again, this is all speculation on my part.

George

"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."

Godless in America by George A. Ricker




Tue Feb 13, 2007 8:31 pm
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