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

Danny Yee (danny@STAFF.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 11:54:30 +1000

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

Ralph Holloway continued:
> Would be interested in what you mean exactly by "most of our ancestors".
> If you mean the australopithecines, I will agree with you.

I was including an extremely large number of single-celled bacteria.
I'm afraid all I was doing was making the almost purely logical (and
extremely uninteresting) point that grammar came into existence *at
some point* (or over some period of time) and that it certainly came
long *after* non-grammatical communication.

> 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.

[ details deleted ]

It still seems a long way from the sophistication of "real" grammar.
The number of possible tool forms seems limited (and is certainly finite),
for example, unlike the productivity of human language. Still, I
definitely *don't* believe that universal grammar sprang fully fledged
from nothing, so the sort of cognitive structures involved in tool-making
must be a prime candidate for some of its precursors.

> 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.

Nah! Given that sci.paleo.anthropology is full of people arguing for
Velikovsky-and von Daniken-like theories, along with the on-going flame
war over the Aquatic Ape Theory, I fear that you wouldn't even get enough
of a flame to light a cigarette with anything so mundane!

Danny Yee.