Re: Human Language.

Thomas Clarke (
18 Dec 1996 20:40:59 GMT

In article <01bbec70$bff64260$> "John Waters"
<> writes:
> >Thomas Clarke <> wrote in article
> ><58vtst$>...

> Can we ... then ask the
> question "what evolutionary circumstances led to the
> development of language by Homo sapiens?"

> JW: That is a good question, Tom. I think it is good enough
> to deserve a thread of its own. Would you care to answer
> your own question here?

I certainly wish I could give the answer. Looking for answers to this
and similar questions is why I have around s.a.p.

Before being beaten thoroughly about the ears I favored a version
of William Calvin's scenario with ideas by Merlin Donald accounting
for more recent developments.

Calvin (The Ascent of Mind) takes the Aquatic Ape scenario for the
evolution of bipedalism seriously, even placing the small rapidly
evolving proto-bipedal population on the then-insular Danakil Alps.
Result: Australopithecenes.
Bringing in ideas from Merlin Donald, [Origins of the Modern Mind] the
Australopithecenes are cognitively apes.
They are episodic creatures responding to their
immediate environment like chimps.
Episodic bipedal.

Calvin then discusses evolutionary pressure for the increase in
brain size in the motor skill of throwing. More brain = more neurons
to control rock release giving better timing giving better hunting
success giving evolutionary advantage. Result Homo erectus.
In Donald's terms Homo erectus has learned (in addition to throwing)
to mime its fellow creatures. To copy the making of tools etc
without modern language.
Mimetic bipedal ballistic hunters.

When the ice ages kick in, Calvin finds evolutionary pressure on the
fringe populations that live at the edge of the advancing ice sheets.
These small populations evolve rapidly to adapt to the harsh conditions,
and then when the ice retreats it is these "hardy" populations that
expand to fill the new ice free land. When the ice advances again
the now much larger evolved population of "hardy" types pushes south
displacing older populations. This process repeats many times during
the pliocene eventually resulting in Homo sapiens. (Neanderthals along
the way, probably).
Donald calls this stage of mind the mythic stage. Language is
developed and becomes the dominant mode of social interaction -
imagine sitting around the campfire telling instructive "myths".
Mythic bipedal verbal craftsmen.

With the Holocene cultural evolution with its complex feedback
loops (nod to Noel Dickover) and memes (Dawkins) eventually
results in the modern phase which Donald calls the theoretic
phase. Writing creates a repository for knowledge beyond what
any biological brain can hold at about the time of classical Greece.
Theoretic wheeled lawful inventors.

Are we on the verge of another phase?

However Australopithicenes got their "legs", I think the broad
outline of the above makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately it is
full of behavior and soft tissue so the paleontologists probably
won't like it.

So lest I forget the original question, the first circumstance
was whatever favored bipedalism. This opened the ballistic hunter niche.
The ice ages then favored evolution of verbal culture.
Man now provides his own evolutionary environment.

Tom Clarke