Re: Human Language.

Peter Crowley (
Fri, 20 Dec 1996 02:06:01 GMT (Thomas Clarke) wrote:

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

> . . , the first circumstance was whatever favored bipedalism.

Surely this is a typo, Tom. Bipedalism may have eventually
lead to the right circumstances for language, but it *need*
not have done so; and A.ramidus did not talk.

>Calvin then discusses evolutionary pressure for the increase in
>brain size in the motor skill of throwing.

Many birds, bats and monkeys throw themselves around with
superb motor skill; fish in the Amazon aim droplets at
flies. Such motor skills need minimal brains. Chimps are
not too bad at throwing. And there is no evidence for any
throwing before about 50 kya.

>More brain = more neurons
>to control rock release giving better timing giving better hunting
>success giving evolutionary advantage. Result Homo erectus.

Hunting is most unlikely at this time. The A-piths
certainly did not have the anatomy for it; neither IMHO did

>When the ice ages kick in, Calvin finds evolutionary pressure on the
>fringe populations that live at the edge of the advancing ice sheets.

Ice ages have been the norm for the past 20 million years or
so. Nothing kicked in. Anyway surely it was all in

>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).

This is the appalling "evolution forces" argument. We are
talking about tens of thousands of generations, while these
climatic changes are happening. You don't go south just
because there is a secular trend towards a fraction of a
degree colder since your grandfather's time. Random changes
over a few years or decades would completely swamp out the
effects of such trends.

Populations do NOT migrate in response to climatic change.
They fade away. Take a look at your local fauna. Why
does this absurd error come up again and again and again?

It also depends entirely on the "hunting hypothesis". How
else could these hominids have survived the winter? Did
they have fire and shelter? When are you talking about?

>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.

Brains are vastly expensive. They did not evolve for the
purposes of entertainment or a kind of "social glue"; that
can be provided by a little elementary back-scratching.

>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

The specific competitive benefits that come from these loops
must be stated.

My own view, taken from Darwin, Keith, Goodall, and many
others., is that warfare was the crucial factor. Success in
war depends on skillful diplomacy, the making of alliances,
inspirational leadership, technological and administrative
superiority and many other skills, all of which need
language. We can take lessons from the 20th century and
see how the characters of modern nations are reflected in
their languages and how the French, Germans, British,
Russians, Americans, etc., succeeded and failed - each in
ways that demonstrated their strengths and weaknesses coming
from their characters and histories. If that *kind* of
history is extended back to the australopithecines AND all
hominids are set in a location that encourages and enables a
story of continuous warfare, whereby losing nations/tribes
are effectlively eliminated, then we have the beginnings of
an account of the "evolutionary circumstances that led to
the development of language".