Culture, proto- and otherwise

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 14:44:15 -0400

In message <> "Jesse S. Cook III" writes:

> I think I said once before that the invention of language was a "quantum
> leap" and, in a certain sense, it was, but it no doubt took place over an
> extended period of time and, thus, there was no dichotomy between before and
> after; it was a continuum. Thus, the proto-culture/culture dichotomy just
> doesn't exist. So why artificially create it?

The "quantum leap" is apparent when you compare extreme ends of the continuum.
In the case of language, we have human language at one "end" and primate
vocalizations or call systems at the other. Due to accidents of history, things
connecting these two extremes are missing unless you count (as Bickerton does)
ape signs and the speech of humans who are (a) 2 years old, or (b) like "Genie"
who missed the critical period for language acquisition. Bickerton (in Language
and Species) calls these "proto-language."

I (as far as I know, but if anyone can correct me please do so) analogized
"proto-culture" from this. Proto-language is something between call systems and
human language; proto-culture is something between genetic programming and
symbolic learning. For me, these are convenient labels for that part of the
"continuum" that is problematic. They help to focus on the issue of how what we
can do is both similar to and different from what, say, chimps can do.

And (to meddle in another thread) being able to think about these issues is one
of the things that makes me glad I'm an anthropologist, and not a sociologist
stuck with just those yucky humans [:Q)].

Ronald Kephart
University of North Florida