On the Origin of Language

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Articles

  1. Origin of language - jiwopumo.tk
  2. The origins of language in teaching
  3. Acknowledgments
  4. Innate or invented?
  5. Origin of language

Here, a simple verbal or even non-verbal cue can be invaluable. This has been demonstrated through developmental psychology experiments, where extensive data now show that adults cue the learning of babies and young children with simple vocalizations. At the same time, pointing, gesture and movement can ground teaching utterances, to provide meaning to unfamiliar terms.

Experimental findings demonstrate that this is not only plausible, but regularly happens when children learn new skills Tomasello, ; Dean et al. Hence, in the context of teaching, how early language could have achieved symbol grounding, and how it could have been of value when comprising just a handful of words, becomes feasible to envisage.

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Origin of language - jiwopumo.tk

The requirement that the theory should provide an explanation for language's power of generalization is also satisfied. Teaching through language, once started, could be applied to multiple difficult-to-learn proficiencies, including extractive foraging procedures, food-processing methods, and hunting skills. This broadening of the hominin diet is associated with increasing reliance on difficult-to-access but nutrient rich foodstuffs that required extraction from a substrate and some form of processing. Often, this food processing required not just tool use but prior technological manufacture.

The teaching of foraging, hunting and scavenging methods, tool manufacture, food preparation and food-processing skills, fire maintenance, and collective defense, some of which required the coordinated actions of multiple individuals, would particularly have benefitted from verbal instruction. In this way, a modest protolanguage would be expected to become increasingly elaborate, and to generalize in a number of dimensions. The uniqueness criterion is also met. No animals aside from humans and perhaps their immediate ancestors evolved language because humans alone were engaged in extensive teaching.

In the absence of widespread teaching, no selection for language to reduce teaching costs or promote teaching efficiencies would occur. Only in hominins did language, teaching and cumulative culture coevolve. With respect to the question of why early language needed to be learned, it is relevant to note that chimpanzees and orangutans both have extensive tool-using repertoires, as well as behavioral traditions that exhibit considerable inter-population variation Whiten et al.

A shift from unlearned to learned vocalization suggests an increase in the rate of change of features of the environment that select for primate communication. However, an explanation based on independently changing external conditions, such as fluctuating climates, is not particularly compelling, both because the scale of climatic change is too slow, and because an external source of selection ought equally to have favored extensive learned communication in other primates.

If, however, language initially evolved as an adaptation to cope with self-constructed elements of the environment, such problems are alleviated. From a comparative perspective, the most obvious features to fit the bill are cultural practices, particularly tool use, extractive foraging and material culture. Cultural practices are typically transmitted amongst close relatives, are deployed to exploit difficult-to-access but nutrient-rich foodstuffs, and are challenging to learn, making them precisely those traits that would benefit from teaching.

If each new tool, or foraging technique, or display, or treatment has to be learned, and if, as the comparative evidence suggests, cultural variants such as tool use are typically learned by young apes from their mothers and older siblings Whiten et al. Consistent with this hypothesis, a recent experimental archaeology study demonstrated that, across six measures, the transmission of stone tool making improves with teaching, and particularly with language, but not with imitation or emulation Morgan et al. Difficult though it is to be totally confident about any account of the selective scenario that originally favored language, the hypothesis that language originally evolved to teach, specifically, to teach close relatives, has many virtues.

The account explains the honesty, cooperativeness, uniqueness and symbol grounding of language, as well as how language got started, its power of generalization, and why language is learned. The explanation meets all seven of the criteria required of a successful account of language origins, something that, to my knowledge, no other hypothesis has done. If I am correct, language is an adaptation that originally functioned to increase the accuracy, reduce the costs, and increase the scope of teaching.

Naturally, the selective scenario for language only begins here, and is likely to have been co-opted and amplified in a variety of ways. In the kin-structured groups exhibited by our ancestors, early language, initially selected as an adjunct to the teaching of young by parents or siblings, could subsequently spread to teaching more distant relatives. This expansion would have been particularly relevant to activities such as collective foraging, scavenging and hunting, which required coordinated activity amongst multiple individuals. Here, the direct benefits of ensuring that relatives possess relevant skills and knowledge, in the form of enhanced foraging returns, would compensate for the reduction in the degree of relatedness amongst more distant relatives.

Complex coordinated actions are often difficult to bring off without a means to teach, or tell, individuals what their specific roles should be. In this regard, language would prove an extremely powerful coordination tool Sterelny, I envisage a transition of early language from its origins in teaching kin to richer forms of language capable of supporting other forms of cooperation amongst non-kin Laland, Both reciprocal altruism and mutualistic trade at least, the trade of distinct, desired commodities are surprisingly rare in other animals outside of the context of kinship Fitch, ; Ridley, Trade seemingly requires some capacity to agree a rate of exchange, something that would be very difficult without at least proto-language, or through the flexible use of shared gesture.

With the evolution of language, trade becomes a possibility, whilst with trade comes negotiation, and selection for still more developed communication Pagel, Other cooperative contexts, for instance, reliant on reciprocity, trade and group selection, could certainly have exploited a pre-existing linguistic capability, generating selection for enhanced linguistic skills.

Such selective feedback would likely have made a big difference both to the scale of human cooperation that ensued, and to the potency of human language Pagel, , plausibly helping to explain how early language extended into domains in which honesty could not be assumed, and vigilance against malevolence or incompetence was required. However, other cooperative contexts struggle to meet the honesty and adaptive from outset criteria described above, and hence cannot be how language got started. Like others Deacon, ; Bickerton, , I suspect that our ancestors constructed a world sufficiently rich in symbolism to generate evolutionary feedback, in the form of self-modified selection pressures that favored structures in the mind that functioned to manipulate and use those symbols with efficiency Rilling et al.

Selection for more efficient and higher-fidelity forms of social learning has favored the evolution of specific structures and functional capabilities in the brain, in the process driving the evolution of brain and intelligence Laland, As the sheer volume of symbols that our ancestors were required to learn the meaning of, and string together in unambiguous messages, increased, so it created the demand for rules and conventions specifying usage patterns i.

If words are simply strung together without syntax then ambiguities over their collective meaning rapidly arise, creating a heavy processing burden on the receiver. Syntax alleviates this burden by breaking up the message hierarchically and recursively into meaningful and readily comprehensible chunks, phrases and clauses, that the brain can easily and quickly process, and by introducing rules that eradicate ambiguities. With this syntax came not just full-blown language, but an almost infinite flexibility in usage. Words have highly restricted meanings until they are strung together, but in combination, underpinned by a mutually understood set of combinatorial rules, they are capable of communicating highly complex messages.

Language probably began as a means of reducing the costs of teaching complex foraging skills, but will have become coopted to teaching linguistic symbols too. Infant-directed speech is typically slower and higher in pitch than regular speech, and uses shorter and simpler words. Such arguments underestimate the important ways in which adults facilitate language learning in children. Experimental studies show that the children who learn language fastest are those who receive the most acknowledgement and encouragement of what they say, who are given time and attention to speak, who are corrected, questioned, and spoken to in a child-friendly manner, and who are exposed to syntactically complex speech at the right time Waterson, ; Huttenlocher et al.

As protolanguages began to increase in complexity from rudimentary foundations, they would have generated increasing strong selection for cognitive adaptations that facilitated language learning and transmission. For instance, compared to other primates, humans appear particularly adept at inferring the meaning of the utterances of others Bloom, , ; Fitch, What is more, the selective feedback from symbolic manipulation to the human mind likely extends far beyond the acquisition of a capacity to extract meanings and comprehend syntax.

Chomsky described language as the main engine of thought, and there is now little doubt that humans possess a mind uniquely fashioned to acquire and process information linguistically. As the conventions of linguistic structure varied from one proto language to another, and changed over time, the rules of syntax would themselves have to be learned.

Whether they are learned through a dedicated language acquisition device, as envisaged by Chomsky , or through some more general process mechanisms, such as Bayesian learning, is a moot point. Either way, I envisage that the symbol-rich cultural world constructed by our ancestors was a major source of selection for enhancements in language learning. Selective feedback from language would have operated at two levels, a gene-culture coevolutionary dynamic, where human cultural activities generate natural selection favoring enhanced language learning and transmission capabilities, but also a cultural evolution dynamic, whereby human cultural activities feed back to affect the learned properties of the language.

Brighton et al. If linguistic structures are to persist over time they must repeatedly survive the process of being learned, expressed, and adopted by others. Children may appear pre-adapted to decipher the rules of syntax in part because languages have evolved to have rules that are easy to learn Deacon, ; Brighton et al.

The cultural evolution of language has been studied through mathematical modeling, and researchers have established that key properties of language, for instance compositionality, could evolve in this manner Smith and Kirby, ; Kirby et al. Likewise, both transmission-chain experiments and mathematical models show how languages propagated culturally evolve in such a way as to maximize their own transmissibility, becoming easier to learn and more structured over time Kirby et al.

This research is important, as it shifts some of the explanatory burden for language away from natural selection for language-specific cognitive adaptations, and makes the challenge of explaining the origins of language more manageable Smith and Kirby, ; Kirby et al. I emphasize that the above account solely addresses the issue of the original function of language. I have said little to nothing about how vocal learning, generative computations underlying language, systems of semantic representations, phonological representations, or the interfaces between these, evolved, and nor have I explained how all of this internal machinery was externalized in linguistic communication, expressed acoustically or visually.

I nonetheless hope that the account will prove of value by taking away a small part of the mystery of the origin of language. Research supported in part by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Psychon Bull Rev.

Published online Jul 1. Kevin N. Author information Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Laland, Email: ku. Corresponding author. This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Abstract I introduce seven criteria for determining the validity of competing theories for the original function of language. Keywords: Language, Teaching, Evolution. References Anton SC. Evolution of early Homo: An integrated biological perspective.

On the evolution of learning: Representation of a stochastic environment. Theoretical Population Biology. Bloom P. Intentionality and word learning.

The origins of language in teaching

Trends in Cognitive Sciences. How children learn the meaning of words. Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago: Chicago University Press; Cultural selection for learnability: Three principles underlying the view that language adapts to be learnable. In: Tallerman M, editor.

Acknowledgments

Language origins: Perspectives on evolution. Primate calls, human language, and nonverbal communication. Current Anthropology. Aspects of the theory of syntax. Recognizing communicative intentions in infancy. Natural pedagogy as evolutionary adaptation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. The symbolic species: The coevolution of language and the brain. New York: Norton; The symbolic species.

Identification of the social and cognitive processes underlying human cumulative culture. Human cumulative culture: A comparative perspective. Biological Reviews. Evolution, revolution or saltation scenario for the emergence of modern cultures? Theory of mind and the evolution of language. In: Hurford JR, editor.

Innate or invented?

Approaches to the evolution of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Broca's area homologue in chimpanzees Pan troglodytes : Probabilistic mapping, asymmetry and comparison to humans. Cerebral Cortex. Prelinguistic evolution in early hominins: Whence motherese? Behavioral and Brain Sciences. The nature of human altruism. Altruistic punishment in humans. Individual versus social learning: Evolutionary analysis in a fluctuating environment. Anthropological Science. Evolution of communication systems: A comparative approach. The evolution of language: A comparative review. Biology and Philosophy.

The evolution of language. The evolution of teaching. The social construction of the cultural mind: Imitative learning as a mechanism of human pedagogy.


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Chomsky insists that grammar is not learnt in the child by trial and error, or else children could not make new grammatical sentences which they have never heard before. Lenneberg studied language impairment in the s and said this shows that when recoveries occur they can be sudden, indicating a species-specific ability. Linguists are agreed that a distinction must be preserved between conditioning through learning by imitation and learning by rules applied to incoming signals.

The second of these theories of language development points strongly to a divinely bestowed genetic gift to humans. When they correct children it is usually on matters of truth or appropriateness. Only a minority with interest in language will bother to correct the language itself. Despite this, children stubbornly learn to communicate. They also react differentially to different voices and, in bilingual societies, to different languages.

In addition to interests in child language, philosophers have often written articles on the relationship between thought and language, in an attempt to unravel the mechanisms of language production.

Origin of language

Language is, mysteriously, at the same time both physical and mental, and the two modes must meet somewhere. Yet in a sense, the establishment of this relationship is both pointless and obscure. Many scientists who are Christians rightly sing the praises of God when describing the human body. Indeed, much can be said scientifically about the wonders of the human ear.

Yet this knowledge is overtly describable, whereas the link between brain-thought and mouth-speech is much more ineffable and recondite. What is the use of humans having a wonderful and most delicate aural system, if you cannot link it to a brain that can understand language? Many animals, doubtless, can be shown to have remarkable hearing, but animals cannot talk, neither can they, in the accepted linguistic sense, understand speech.

They may respond to noise and even voice-tone, but, so far as we can discover, they do not act in any non-programmed way, such as is characteristic of human use of language. We therefore assume that language is unique to humans.

Thought and language

Indeed, the use of language cannot begin to be understood until some connection is made between processes of thought and processes of speech. It just has to be a gift from God. The study of language is really the study of mind, as shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 is a crude representation of what happens in the two stages we might call communicating and understanding.

It will be seen that this representation includes:. Who is able to investigate such an amalgam? Granted that early behaviourist psychologists like Watson tried to show parallels between physical and mental phenomena, no experiment they produced was able to establish true correlates with the processes of thought through mechanical measurements. According to Chomsky:.

There is more to it, then, than the physical, and we are hard put to it to find anything equivalent in the animal world. Some linguists have argued for an internal generation of speech to match incoming signals as part of the process of understanding. This would explain why Lashley, as far back as , performed a linguistic experiment on his audience at a conference. If creativity is involved in understanding as much as in the production of language, this helps us to accept the fact that we understand more than we can produce.

In both first and second language learning it is clear that in exchanges we understand more than we produce, even in the matter of learning new sounds. The interview went something like this:. Adult: Is that your fish? Child: Yes, my fis. Child: No, not my fis. My fis. It is obvious that the child recognised the distinction of consonants, but could not produce the actual distinction physically. The famous Port-Royal Grammar summarised this threefold description by stating:.

Yet it seems that, without a conscious mind, spiritual abilities cannot properly be exercised. But it is true that we do perform mental assurance through words. Can we learn something about the origin of language from a direct approach to Scripture? The first example of language used in Genesis is significant. There is a whole theology here, somewhat beyond our current concerns.

Is it that, for humans to have meaning as creatures, it was necessary for the concept of language to exist even in the Godhead? Thus we see that God expresses His love in blessing them even before giving them the laws for their life on the perfect Earth He has created for them. From Genesis we have to assume that Adam and Eve could understand language, for God never uses any methods purposelessly. This human pair were equipped with a highly complex aural system, behind which was an even more complex brain and thought system. By now we are into one of the greatest and most controversial arguments of linguistically inclined academics.

Some say with Locke that the mind is a tabula rasa empty tablet on to which language impinges in childhood. The Bible appears to support the latter, since. Note that the programming is only concerned with the ability to understand and not with any automatic responses to what is understood. But before that we find Adam speaking unprompted before God in Genesis He speaks poetically. In fact, rhythmic or semantically parallel utterances are obviously more advanced than plain speech. Adam as a functioning adult must have had some special programming, but we cannot say to what extent this directed his speech.

He would presumably thereafter learn from his linguistic environment, just as we do. Scripture nowhere condemns talking to oneself. In fact, most people understand David to be doing just that in Psalm —5. I doubt if it was mere soliloquy. Although this is the agreed order of things in child language development, the case with Adam is an adult situation and should not be compared, in case we are led into theories of physical recapitulation of events.

Thus the Bible describes no age-long practice prior to the establishment of normal adult linguistic ability. To complete the picture, Scripture shows a discussion between God on the one hand and Adam and Eve on the other, indicating that by this time certain quasi-logical elements were present in human language. After all, another voice, that of a fallen angel, had intervened in Genesis This intervention introduced the question form into human thought and language.

Now the question itself is not a sinful form. God Himself is recorded as using it on numerous occasions. Here we have gone beyond language into morality and Divine-human relationships. Returning to the physical, we see that practically all the known functions of language are in evidence right from the creation. We can therefore say with confidence that God created language and that language is a perfect gift, powerful but therefore dangerous in a sinful world. Yet the wonder of the gift remains, and I am continually amazed as I ponder the remarkable way in which such an apparently unrelated set of events as we have in our bodies becomes a vehicle for complex and, if we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us, uplifting thoughts.