Re: Human Language. (long post)

Diarmid Murray (
Thu, 26 Dec 1996 01:10:21 GMT

Yes, but does "true" language need to be acoustic? Surely signing
systems like ASL are true language? Could it really be described as
non-verbal or paralinguistic? And chimps can learn it from us, and,
arguably, become as proficent as something approximating to a bright
human pre-school child level: gorillas too.

In other words, they seem to grasp some grammatical rules, and create
new combinations which can be understood, spontaneously, rather than
simply producing a certain sign for a certain object or event.

OK, ASL and the like are secondary developements in our culture, (and
perhaps in our species), and the chimps have to learn it from us.

But it does suggest that a lack of the physical equipment for modern
human vocalised speech need not preclude highly sophisticated
interactive communication (language?).

Having a wild stab in true Usenet tradition, and it is Christmas, I
would suggest that social tool-users like Erectus, probably even
Habilis, would have had a sophisticated language involving signing
and vocalisation, in addition to the usual non-verbals etc. The big
question, when the morphological evidence was unhelpful especially,
would be what was the balance. (And when and where and with which culture?).

Following on from this, it would be interesting to consider what
changes in circumstance and/or lifestyle might seem to advantage any
radical shifts in this balance, as evidenced morphologically. But I
suspect that whatever Habilis had was "true" language, and the really
interesting problems relate to examining the proposal. I'm sure
there's plenty scope for a newsgroup dedicated to considering what is
"true" language, if it does not exist already. And that's just for starters.

Have a great Boxing Day, Diarmid. (Can you hear me, or am I just
imagining you?).