talking of tools...

Mr J.M. Ottevanger (J.Ottevanger@LIVERPOOL.AC.UK)
Wed, 8 Feb 1995 20:03:31 +0000

James Barnes, this note's for you, and the whole world if they're patient
You raised an interesting subject when you asked for discussion of intelligence
and speach, and Ralph Holloway has been mentioning symbol systems too. I'd like
to run an idea by y'all, and in particular any psychologists out there.
Way back there was this chap in Stalinist Russia called Lev Vygotsky. His ideas
are reaching an increasingly wide audience now, sixty years after he bought it.
They relate to the role of language as the basis for much "higher" thought,
and it occured to me that one might be able to use the archaeological expressions
of these thought processes as evidence for the antiquity of language, in a
similar way to Wynn's 1979 study of the cognitive development of early hominids
based on their methods of tool manufacture. Vygotsky and his followers refer
often to long term memory's (or aspects of it's) foundation in language. Sadly
I have been unable to find a reference that discusses this idea fully, save for
the inspiring but unreliable books by John McCrone "the ape that spoke" and "the
myth of irrationality". The ability to abstract, and to form certain types of
concepts are also said to language-based. I would hope to find indirect
evidence of these capabilities in the archaeological record, perhaps as manuports
as patterns of flaking etc. My study has ground to a halt due to a rather vague
psychological literature that rarely defines the purported language-based
abilities, or the mechanisms through which they operate, but I believe that
there is the potential to determine the minimum linguistic competence of tool-
making hominids subject to various assumptions, the biggest of course being the
acceptance of the Vygotskian viewpoint (on which I have to reserve judgement,not
being a psychologist).
Basically, there may be a relationship between more advanced (emphasised) tool-
making and some sort of communication system.
I hope these ramblings contribute in some way - I have in fact been brief - all
comments welcome,
adieu, Jeremy