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Language originated all at once?

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From ScienceDaily:

At some point, probably 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, humans began talking to one another in a uniquely complex form. It is easy to imagine this epochal change as cavemen grunting, or hunter-gatherers mumbling and pointing. But in a new paper, an MIT linguist contends that human language likely developed quite rapidly into a sophisticated system: Instead of mumbles and grunts, people deployed syntax and structures resembling the ones we use today.

“The hierarchical complexity found in present-day language is likely to have been present in human language since its emergence,” says Shigeru Miyagawa, Professor of Linguistics and the Kochi Prefecture-John Manjiro Professor in Japanese Language and Culture at MIT, and a co-author of the new paper on the subject.

To be clear, this is not a universally accepted claim: Many scholars believe that humans first started using a kind of “proto-language” — a rudimentary, primitive kind of communication with only a gradual development of words and syntax. But Miyagawa thinks this is not the case. Single words, he believes, bear traces of syntax showing that they must be descended from an older, syntax-laden system, rather than from simple, primal utterances.

It may not be a universally accepted claim but of course it makes sense.

The “mumbles and grunts” claim doesn’t work because it doesn’t lead anywhere.

The bee dance communicates only information. Animals screaming at each other communicate feelings. Human language communicates information and intelligent feelings, including new creation of information.

Mumbles and grunts won’t tell us stuff like “We need 4 by 4s for this job, and hardwood not softwood” or “To no one will we sell, delay or deny right or justice. Magna Carta ” Or “I if I be lifted up, will draw all men to me.” Wake me up when gibbons talk this way.

See also: Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness

6 Replies to “Language originated all at once?

  1. 1
    Andre says:

    Punk eek for language too? Poor Darwinists what do they have left? Oops, I forgot they never had anything anyway…….

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    the bible says Adam spoke right away and Babel split the language up.
    I agree that languages can’t be vsaid to be better grunts.
    Its all about memorizing sounds in consent to meaning.
    However I suspect adam did not get a language but instead quickly;y went to segregating sounds into words. i mean in hours.
    It is clear to me that tones of voice are more/as important then words.
    They express important thoughts or emotions as some say.
    Animals do the same thing but are too dumb to get complex.
    i think Adam went from lingering sounds representing important thoughts/emotions into quickly making it complex.

    the big point here is that its impossible to ease into words. the sounds must be agreed too first. Thats complex society. animals can’t do that.
    our original words were probably better divisions/unitings of thoughts.
    Remember however tones of voice dominate human language. not words. Thats what music is. music is almost as articulate as words.

  3. 3
    mahuna says:

    On what evidence do these people assume that humans EVER spoke in grunts?

    If we look at actual “primitive” people, such as the Bushmen or the Australian Aborigines, they carry on perfectly normal conversations, although they do go a bit vague when replying to questions on high energy physics or international currency exchanges.

    Some centuries ago, an “African” tribe developed in the jungles on the north coast of South America from individual runaway slaves. They spoke several different, unrelated African languages, and in a remarkable show of natural human sharing, instead of imposing one of the languages on everyone else, the ex-slaves created a new, never before heard language using elements of each of the original languages.

    This in itself is remarkable, but the truly fascinating part is that as the CHILDREN grew up learning only the new language it was the CHILDREN who defined the specifics rules or grammar. And of course within a generation or 2, the new language was stable and well defined.

    But clearly one of the MANY things that the brains of children are wired to do from birth (and before birth) is LEARN LANGUAGE. When I sit with my 3-month old grandson, the thing he most wants to do (well, after a bottle and clean diaper) is stare into my face and watch me TALK to him. He clearly wants to become a full member of the pack/clan/tribe. And so he works very hard at figuring out how to move his tongue and blow air out of his mouth to make noise. And his great achievement will be the day that he can finally say “ma-ma”, in recognition of the most important person in his world.

    Babies clearly think before they’re born. And to think they need Words, and once you add a couple verbs to the nouns, you have Language. Humans have been fully human for a million years. For that entire time, we have talked to each other in sentences, inventing new words when we discovered something worth getting its own name. And our bright young children explored all of the ways the new word could be used and settled on the preferred forms.

  4. 4
    Silver Asiatic says:

    On what evidence do these people assume that humans EVER spoke in grunts?

    Interesting – they’d have to show that from the fossil record somehow, which they can’t and won’t do.

  5. 5
    redwave says:

    News. These links might be of interest, relating to language. They are references to the same proposed model.

    http://m.phys.org/news/2015-02.....words.html

    http://www.cell.com/current-bi.....14)01373-6?

  6. 6
    Robert Byers says:

    mahuna
    I question that kids etc are wired to learn language.
    Language construction is simply sounbd agreements.
    The kids are wired to express their thoughts but surely not in sound constructions.
    I say they just memorize very quickly the sound constructions of adults.
    They memorize so well one would think they are wired but its not that big a deal to memorize for humans.

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