Re: Origin of Language

@#$%!?! (
Tue, 25 Jul 1995 19:40:37 GMT

: HI, I'm new hear. Recently my 11 year old neice asked how and when
: humans started using words. I'd sure appreciate it if someone could direct
: me to a few good sources (or even better, answer the question :-) )

Partly, it's a question of definition. Many animals make sounds to
communicate, so they could be said to be using (primitive) language.
Hominids, long before they were hominids, were undoubtably
communicating in that way.

The kind of abstract, generative language we use today requires
some physical accomodation which has left physical evidence. Among
others, is the light weight jaw without interlocking canines that
is seen very early, two million (?) years ago. Also, we have a
unusual arrangement of the larnyx and esophagus. This is probably
restricted to modern humans. Also earlier skulls do not seem to
room for important speech centers on the left side of the brain.
Most linguistics text books cover this.

So it is unlikely anything earlier than Cro-Magnon was capable of
modern speech. But, unless you assume divine intervention, such
capabilities do not arise spontaneously. It requires a preexisting
pressure and genetic raw material. Our speech is probably the
product of millions of years of refinement.

Physically, we are the same as Cro-Magnon, so the languages
should also be of the same complexity. I don't know any way to
discover whether language was immediately able to exploit the new
anatomy or one or the other lagged. Today, all languages are of
comparable complexity regardless of the culture using it. Primitive
cultures (how ever you define that) do _not_ use primitive

Another question is the relations of languages. Was language
evolved by a single community which then took it with them as they
spread across the globe? In that case, you would expect all
languages to have descended from a single language. Some Russian
linguists have been pursuing this for some time. They named the
original language Proto-World.

There might also been many different places languages arose. In
which case, there is no single parent language. Because
vocabulary and syntax do not leave fossil evidence until they
are written, the farther back you go, the more speculative the
reconstructed languages.

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