Re: Human language (long)
28 Dec 1996 15:49:30 +0200

Michael McBroom,, wrote:

> I am a student of linguistics, currently in
> the grad program at Cal State Fullerton, and my specific area of study
> is the biological origins of language. To me, this is a deeply
> fascinating topic.
snip interesting stuff

For some time ago I collected - loosely, just for fun - what kind of
communicating animal groups I knew, and what else I know of them.
Sociality, of course, was represented, as well as good care for the
young. Then, nest building and even cases of 'tool' use, were
included. Intelligence, in the sense of good learning abilities,
was often present, too. 'Domesticated animals' and plant cultivation
had been invented by a few. These were diverse groups, all having
developed their stage independently.

This was which came into my mind:

Groups of insects, like bees and ants, have communication methods
which include chemicals (pheromones) and movements (the dance of
bees). They are social creatures, which build nests and take
good care of their young. Some leafcutter ants can use 'tools',
handling their caterpillars which secrete a silk-like mucus, to
glue leaf edges together. Ants cultivate mycorhizae, and some
shepherd aphids much like we do sheep. Ants and bees are related,
but termites, a quite separate group, have developed very similar
methods. I don't know about learning abilities among these
animals, but guess they function on preset programs, mainly.
Interesting, anyway, that they have developed so similar
'cultural' methods on a quite different wiring system, compared
to us.

Some birds, like big parrots and the raven family, are intelligent
and well learning, social, care their young, build nests, and have
a signalling, visual as well as auditory, communication system.
Another species even can use 'a tool' if we want to call a thorn
used to pick larvae from deep crevices as a tool.

Dolphins lack the ability to build or use tools, but their
intelligence and communication abilities are said to be excellent.
Social, good caretakers of the young.

Wolves, (and dogs) social caretakers of their young, visual and
audible signal communication system, good learning abilities.

We ourselves, with all our relatives.

To me, this tells, that there is an overall tendency to the
direction where we have proceeded. The basics are not special for
us, though, of course, we have reached a quite unique level. We
happen to unite all these traits which seem to linger with the
'communication-complex': sociality, good care of the young
(actually, I don't know any social animal species which does not
take care of their young), ability to build nests and use tools
(dolphins and wolves have no hands, birds are handicapped by
having their hands in another use), intelligence (insects are
too small to be individually really intelligent).

I believe that these traits have to do with the ability of a
species to handle varying situations, which, in turn, has
made them capable to survive rapid changes.

This all is, of course, quite at the base of the origin of real
language (and intelligence) like ours, but I wonder, if any
comparative studies have been made.

> Michael McBroom
> CSUF Linguistics

Aila Korhonen in Finland