Re: [PALEO,LING] ] Re: Language, gesture, etc.

Ralph L Holloway (rlh2@COLUMBIA.EDU)
Wed, 14 Feb 1996 01:25:47 -0500

On Wed, 14 Feb 1996, Danny Yee wrote:

> Because many animals have vocal communication but no grammar; among them,
> almost certainly, most of our ancestors.

Would be interested in what you mean exactly by "most of our ancestors".
If you mean the australopithecines, I will agree with you. If you are
including early Homo at the same time there is an Oldawn tool assemblage
and also an Acheulean one, then I will disagree. I really still believe
that stone tool making is one of the few windows to hominid cognition, as
I tried to argue back in 1969. To me, those stone tools do have
"grammar", that is, regularities of sensorimotor, perceptual, and
conceptual operations that maintain a certain invariant structure not
totally dictated by the form of the original stone material prior to
fabrication. I still maintain that those regularities which we name
"Oldowan", "Acheulean", and which we can translate as "detach flake
here-turn over-detach flake there-sufficient?-no-turn over-detach
there....." to "detach flakes this side-rotate-dteach flakes that
side-turnover-detach flakes this side-detach flakes that side-- etc, etc.
are a part of a cognitive structure that can only come through social
behavior and socialo communication. Language? Well, yes, I believe a
primitive language was necessary to accomplish that and have it so wide
spread ithroughout so much of Africa, and of course, later, elsewhere.
This is exactly what I meant by claiming the "culture" was, among other
things, the ability to impose arbitrary form on the environment. Nothing
I have read in the intervening years has convinced me that what chimps
and/or gorillas do is tool-making in any of the same sense that early
homs two million years ago were doing.
When you get to Levallois flakes, I regard the "grammar" as very
sophisticated and "advanced". I'll bet my eye teeth that those hominids
had language and would get flamed on any newsgroup.
Ralph Holloway