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KUpsyc418-dynamics

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kupsyc418

 

answer

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What is it that separates man from beast?  The uniqueness of humanity stems from strictly human creations: government, philosophy, war, science.  All of those are based on one thing: the ability of humans to accumulate knowledge and customs across generations and cultures through language. Language is a symbolic system with arbitrary relationships between words and their meaning, which are combined with principles and rules to form meaningful statements. Why are humans the only animal with language?  Many vertebrates make sounds and obviously to communicate with each other; one key difference has been that their communication lacks the property of recursion.  The European starling, Sturnus vulgaris, has been successfully trained to learn grammar that includes recursion.  One unique property of human language that is now shared with a bird.

            Recursion, or discrete infinity, in language is the use of a finite set of rules and components to yield an infinite number of expressions (Hauser, et al., 2002).  Recursion is no longer a uniquely human ability (Gentner, et al., 2006); therefore, the differences between human language and animal communication arise from quantitative physiological differences.  These differences are found in memory, sensory-motor and conceptual-intentional systems, and linguistic computations (i.e. syntax and grammar).  It should be noted that no natural examples of recursion in animal communication have yet been observed.  Meanwhile, further seperation between man and animal is present in their ability, in the case of humans, and inability, in the case of animals, to produce and effectively communicate theorectical or intangible ideas.  Within this finite set of tools including recursion, intangible thoughts and ideas become an expressible means of addressing: past or future moments in time, far away locations and even the non-psyhical such as feelings. 

            Memory is essential for the learning of a gloss and grammar in the acquisition of language.  Animals have a memory and the ability to learn, but laboriously learn associations between objects and words- vocabulary. It has been shown that with extensive and arduous vocabulary training, non-human primates can learn glosses with about 200 words (Hauser, et al., 2002), while children have vocabularies of about 1,500 words by age 4 (Rathus 2006) and the average high school student graduates with a vocabulary of sixty-thousand words (Hauser, et al., 2002).  Children unconsciously acquire the grammar of the language they are immersed in up until a critical period; afterwards it is much more difficult to learn the syntax rules of a language (Hauser, et al., 2002).  Vertebrates have the ability to acquire a vocabulary, but the human brain has evolved to easily acquire and store vastly more new words and their associative definitions. 

            In order for vocal imitation of a sound to occur, the sound must first be processed by the temporal cortex, and then sent to the mirror neurons in the pre-motor area in the prefrontal cortex, which then communicate with the pre-motor areas that are involved with respiration, the tongue, larynx, and jaw, which then synapse onto the respective motor areas to produce the sound.  All vertebrates have temporal and prefrontal cortexes with pre-motor areas, but the brain regions are much more developed in humans.  Dolphins and some song-birds have been shown to possess the ability to imitate sounds well, while non-human primates lack this talent (Hauser, et al., 2002).  The problem for the primates lies in their under-developed vocal cords and Broca’s area (part of the pre-motor area).  Children are born with the ability to distinguish all possible phonemes of human language and then learn which phonemes are important to distinguish and which ones are inseparable in meaning.  Chinchillas and macaques show that they can in fact distinguish similar human phonemes (Hauser, et al., 2002).  The ability to distinguish and create distinct sounds has evolved in nearly all vertebrates because of its usefulness for survival.  Humans evolved to have an excellent ability to distinguish sounds (phonemes) and then the ability to imitate them very well.

            Humans have a vastly more complex conceptual-intentional system for language than other vertebrates.  Scientists have unsuccessfully attempted to teach non-referential (abstract) vocabulary to animals, e.g. “truth” or “freedom.”  Animals seem to only have the ability to learn associative relations between words and concrete objects or actions.  Non-human primates have been taught verbs and nouns which they use to create rudimentary agrammatical sentences.  Most words in the human language do not describe the actual physical world, or even have a definitive meaning, e.g. “but,” “and,” “then”.  Humans are also the only animals with the ability to speak and understand events that have happened in the past, are happening in the present, and will happen in the future.  The power of human language and the human mind is that we are not trapped to the present: we can run simulations of actions in our minds and predict consequences with out having to learn by trial and error. The abstract nature of language allows us to communicate ideas about the past or future. So although some vertebrates have the ability to associate words with meanings, it is much less complex than human learning of words and their associative concrete and abstract meanings. 

            The faculty of language in the narrow sense has been previously defined as uniquely human (Hauser, et al., 2002).  Noam Chomsky refers to recursion as the core property of the FLN and that it “appears to lack any analog in animal communication” (Hauser, et al., 2002).  European starlings have been proven to learn recursive grammar with the property of “discrete infinity.”  The pattern taught to the birds has a pattern of recursive imbedded grammars.  The ability to classify and distinguish expressions of recursive center-embedded grammars (e.g. “he thought that, she thought that…) is not uniquely human (Gentner, et al., 2006).  Important to the study was that the pattern was context-free, meaning that all confounds that may have arisen from certain external clues or finite-state patterns were accounted for.  The ability to understand and apply recursion has been proven to no longer be a uniquely human talent.

            Chomsky accounts for children’s relatively unconscious acquisition of language as “innate dispositions” or “universal grammar” (Hauser, et al., 2002).  It seems as though the human brain is born with a generic template of grammatical principles that is ‘filled in’ with the rules and structure of the language of the environment children are brought up in. Over millennia, the human brain has evolved to create vast neural networks between the temporal cortex (Wernicke’s area) and the prefrontal cortex (Broca’s area) - the two most important area’s of the brain for language.  A major difference between the human brain and other vertebrates is the extensive development of the neo-cortex and the prefrontal cortex.  These brain regions are the most recently evolved and responsible for critical thinking, planning, and problem solving.  Part of the human ability to learn grammar and syntax comes from critical thinking that leads to advanced pattern recognition.  Language is not learned in the same manner as other factual information, behaviors, and patterns.  Human capacity for recursion and universal grammar originate from extensive evolution of the human brain, specifically the temporal, prefrontal, and neo-cortices. 

            Through the continuation of knowledge and truth from generation to generation by means of language, the human race has separated itself from the rest of the animal kingdom.  Recursion, the primary distinction between human language and animal communication, has been taught to a species of bird, but it has yet to be observed in natural animal communication, although it remains a possibility.  Many vertebrates have the necessary components of language – memory, sensory-motor and conceptual-intentional systems, and recursion.  Through evolutionary processes the human brain is predisposed to acquire language with minimal effort. Some vertebrates can imitate sounds well, develop a rudimentary vocabulary, or even learn recursive patterns of grammars, but no animal species naturally communicates with a system of language that possesses the property of discrete infinity. For now, humans can remain content as they stand alone at the top of the animal kingdom as the lone possessor of language. 

 

  1. Marc D. Hauser, Noam Chomsky, W. Tecumseh Fitch. “The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?” Neuroscience. Nov 2002. Vol 298, 1569-1578.
  2. Timothy Q. Gentner, Kimberly M. Fenn, Daniel Margoliash, Howard C. Nusbaum. “Recursive Syntactic Pattern Learning by Songbirds.” Nature. 27 April 2006. Vol    440, 1204-1207.
  3. Spencer A. Rathus. Childhood: Voyages in Development. Thomson Learning, Inc. 2006. Canada.

 


 

I have given us something to start with. Above is a paper that describes how recursion, an important property of language, has been successfully taught to a species of bird. The paper answers a majority of the components of the question being asked. I think everyone should make changes to this draft, by adding at least two references of their own to further develop a complete and coherent answer to this assignment.

 

answer

 

 

A good answer to this question would start by describing the basic mechanisms that lead to evolutionary change as identified by Darwin. There should be an appropriate reference to those mechanisms, and an explanation of the terms that Darwin used (not simply a “laundry list” of the mechanisms as described by Darwin).

 

A definition of language should probably follow. As noted in class and described in the Ulbaek article (also discussed in class), language is not “one thing,” but rather a collection of skills, abilities, etc. Given that many things, not one thing (e.g., an opposable thumb) had to occur for language to occur, one could argue that “language” per se did not evolve, but the ability to use the tool we call language DID evolve…

 

…or perhaps, given the material discussed in Ulbaek, language is simply a spandrel (see the work of Gould)…

 

…the article by Cangelosi & Parisi (1998; discussed in class) also describes the limits of the evolution of language: the ability to produce language had to occur along with the ability to perceive language. Having one ability without the other would not yield any benefit…

 

…case studies of Genie and other children who were raised with no to minimal exposure to language might offer some evidence relevant to this issue…

 

…one might elect to answer this question in the same way that the French Academy of Sciences did (circa 1866)…

 

…some might find the debate between Chomsky, Fitch, & Hauser (these authors appear in various orders on various papers) versus Pinker & Jakendoff in the journal Cognition to be of interest…

 

…genetic evidence (i.e., FOXP2) might provide others with evidence to address this issue…

 

…evidence from Bickerton on creole and pidgin languages might also offer insight….

 

There are obviously many ways that this question can be answered; you might think of still other approaches. I suggest you find one approach that interests you, and contribute to that line of writing. (Not all of the above points need to be in the answer, they are simply there to get you thinking about this question.) You should also occasionally see how the point you are working on fits in with what else is being written. At one time, your contribution might make a good introduction, but at a later time, your point might offer a unique piece of counter-evidence to a point raised elsewhere in the document. Don’t be afraid to write, revise, and write some more. One well-written point is much more valuable that a dozen comments that are superficial, poorly explained, and not accompanied by an appropriate example.

 

Comments (31)

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Michael Vitevitch said

at 8:30 am on Sep 16, 2008

Please place style and editorial comments here.

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koga said

at 10:46 am on Oct 22, 2008

I have a comment about a lot of this, but I am not sure if I can back it up with empiral evidence, nor am I sure if it will make sense to anyone else, so please bear with me: Ok, so it seems to me that if language were able to indeed "evolve" it would happen over more than one generation( when I think of generation, I assume 20 yrs) And Darwin's theory of evolution or natural selection was basically that those alleles which were beneficial in the survival and positive selection of their carriers were the ones that were passed on. But to be able to be "passed on" in this way, that would be assuming that language was innate (i.e. Noam Chomsky and acquisition of language). I think that if language were innate, then by all means, those who had the most effective ways of doing so would definitely have an advantage over those who did not. Relationships fail because of lack of proper communication, businees transactions, meetings among world dignitaries...etc. I dont think it is too farfetched to believe that those who communicate better have an advantage. But ofcourse, support of this point would mean you agree with Darwin, and Chomsky...

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Melissa Winner said

at 9:19 am on Oct 28, 2008

A few thoughts...

 

I think Koga's comment is very helpful (especially the part about how relationships fail becaues of proper communication), and it seems very logical. I'm not, however, comfortable with the lack of concrete evidence showing that language evolved. Even if Darwin's theory CAN be logically applied to language, that does not necessarily prove that it IS the way that language came to be. (Remember that any one phenomenon may be able to be explained by a number of different theories, and that's when the "law of parsimony" comes into play.) I just re-read Assignment #8, and Prof. Vitevitch writes, "Consider the theory of evolution and whether it applies to cognitive processes, specifically language." I don't want to put words into his mouth, but if we take this at face value, he seems to be asking whether the theory of evolution DOES apply to cognitive processes and language, not whether it simply CAN...which means we need to consider plenty of other theories and counter-evidence before drawing any conclusions.

 

On another note...We appear to be "hard-wired" to acquire language in a way that other animals are not. At the core of this issue, I think we need to consider whether this is due to something innate and unique to the HUMAN brain, or whether it is because we simply have MORE advanced cognitive faculties than other primates.

 

A final parting thought is something that Jen pointed out in class on 10/28: If we accept that there is a "gene" for language that can be passed down, we need to remember that it does not mean that we can simply come out of the womb talking like a fully-functioning adult (obviously). What it really is is a gene that codes for the ABILITY to produce language, and then our experiences and learning have to get us the rest of the way.

 

Hope this helps get things flowing and/or spurs some responses/debate!

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adeck22 said

at 11:18 am on Oct 28, 2008

Considering the fundamental mechanisms, it is reasonable to assume that language coincides with evolution; not necessarily that language itself evolves, but that it plays a significant role in the evolution of humans. On the most basic level, evolutionary theory entails three premises: 1.) there is an abundance of organisms, more than will survive given available resources; 2.) there is variance amongst organisms in each species; and 3.) different characteristics make different individuals more fit to survive.

From the eliminative materialist perspective, a perspective implied by evolutionary theory, language can be reduced to the series of brain states required to produce it. Thus language can be defined by characteristics, and naturally these characteristics vary from person to person. Just as certain physical features can enhance survival odds, the presence of certain cognitive capacities, specifically those involved in communication, are crucial for survival in today’s society. In no way does this imply, though, that at birth it is predetermined how successful one will be with regard to language.

Language is a valuable tool. Those who effectively take advantage of it are more likely to have resources and more likely to successfully reproduce. Not only do they offer (genetically) cognitive potential, but they are more likely to create an environment in which, through experience, their offspring can excel in terms of language skills. Inherited, physical brain composition and likelihood of a stimulating environment do not guarantee success. They simply increase the probability of the acquisition of language skills that make some individuals more fit to survive than others.

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ashlienoland said

at 1:56 pm on Oct 28, 2008

Though language ability is unique to humans, it heavily relies on experience and human interaction. This is apparent when considering children who have been isolated from human contact, for whatever reason, from a very young age. There are several instances in which feral children will be discovered after being raised by wolves or dogs, per say, for much of their lives. If feral children were removed from their environment, it would be difficult, yet possible, to teach them human language. Though feral children do not pick up on language as easily as young children would, they do possess the capability to form sentences (which usually aren’t grammatically correct) as well as comprehend speech. With this said, one can deduce that there is a period in a humans life where human interaction and experience play a critical role in the language process. As mentioned above, feral children are simply not exposed to these factors and as their brains develop, certain connections that facilitate language processing are not established.

 

Experience and human interaction are indeed critical to fully utilize this unique human ability. I do, however, think that language was reached through evolution in the sense that physical structures were a decisive factor. The fact that, currently, language is so important (necessary to survive) and the fact that only humans contain the physical structure to produce complex language imply that these structures were retained specifically for language purposes.

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adeck22 said

at 2:22 pm on Oct 28, 2008

Any explanation for the emergence of language that does NOT apply to evolution, would have to be beyond the limits of materialism, which would inevitably undermine Darwin's theory.

 

As far as parsimony is concerned, I would consider language through evolution the MOST parsimonious explanation. Evolutionary theory is relatively simple. That is, it is straightforward. There are no unnecessary components. It is also generalizable on several levels. Any other explanation for language only complicates things unless it is in some way BETTER than the evolutionary explanation.

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Lamar said

at 8:17 pm on Oct 28, 2008

It seems we have a fairly good handle on the mechanisms of Darwinism, so I'll just go ahead and give my random thoughts on the issue of whether or not Darwinism can explain the evolution of language. Clearly, language evolved. There's no question about this since it is here, after all, and thus it had to have gotten here somehow. And unless we are willing to go outside the physical realm for explanations, I do not think this should be very controversial to say.

 

Now, we are left with several problems:

(1) Did language evolved by natural selection? (As opposed to some other process.)

(2) If so, how did it?

(3) Moreover, is it even possible for us to go beyond mere hypothesizing?

 

I think that in order to show whether or not language (or rather, the capacity to learn language) evolved by natural selection we need to do some hypothesizing as to how it could have led to an increase in genetic fitness for the individual humans first using it.

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Lamar said

at 8:18 pm on Oct 28, 2008

I hate to keep harping on this as I did in class, but I think that the fact that humans have a pharynx is important in discussing this issue because having a pharynx is dangerous—it increases the likelihood of choking. Of course, the pharynx allows us to make a wide range of noises, so it is beneficial for language: it gives us a substrate onto which we may express our language. As someone pointed out in class, language in the substrate of sound is more advantageous than in, say, sign language, since one cannot carry things and sign at the same time, etc… My point here is that this suggests (to me, at least) that the capacity for language evolved before the particular physiology that humans have for speech evolved. Humans could have been signing language first only to later evolve a pharynx to make speech sounds, as the ones who could use language by speaking were at a greater advantage.

 

The reason I say this, is that a pharynx would never evolve unless there is some great advantage to having it (one that outweighs the advantage of being able to eat and not have to think about it at the same time). But, evolution cannot look to the future; so the advantage to having a pharynx would have to have been an advantage BEFORE the pharynx came about. And, a pharynx is not very useful unless one can talk with it. And, one can only talk with it if one has the cognitive capacity for language. Ergo, unless having a pharynx once bestowed upon us some other great advantage that we as of yet do not know, the capacity for language must have evolved before the capacity for speech.

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Lamar said

at 8:19 pm on Oct 28, 2008

But, did language evolve out of an increase in cognitive processes in general? In class, we talked about a piece of evidence (I don’t know the papers, but we should probably get them) that seems to me to suggest that this is not so: there are good talkers who have low IQ’s.

 

So here’s the problem: we need to show how the capacity for language as such could have evolved by natural selection. Can we make recourse to a general evolution of intelligence (which would be easy since it’s always better to be smarter than to be dumber)? The aforementioned evidence seems to suggest that we cannot.

 

Can we make use of animal communication? I do not think we can rely on sound communication, for the reasons I gave above—having a pharynx is only useful if one can already use language.

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pcalnon said

at 6:21 pm on Nov 24, 2008

There's a new page on the wiki digging into the question for this assignment and trying to work through some of the foundational ideas involved in this discussion. If it would be helpful at any point in the process of developing a collective answer, the <a href="http://kupsyc418.pbwiki.com/question">question</a> page can be edited, added to, or commented on as part of an ongoing discussion of the ideas underlying the topic.

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pcalnon said

at 6:27 pm on Nov 24, 2008

The link to the "question" page didn't work in the previous comment, but you can get to the page via a link on the sidebar.

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cogquest said

at 11:53 am on Dec 3, 2008

At this point the scientific community has a daunting task ahead of it in its quest to explain how language came about through Darwinian evolution. The biggest problem is that in the question of the origin of human language that we see in the world today, we can only see the fully functioning system of language, complete with interacting processes of phonetics, phonology, syntax and other components such as the lexicon.

We can run experiments on accumulated data from languages around the world and in past times through recorded history, but in every instance we can only observe complete fully functioning languages which have operational language comprised of complex systems of phonetics, phonology, and syntax, which work together to produce the whole of language. (Note: even in manual languages, there are aspects of phonology present though sound is absent. For example, native signers of a manual language can pick out non-native signers of the language.)

Even in data gathered from the study damaged language systems (such as those observed in aphasics, or lesion patents), most often the whole language system is broken to some degree when one area of language does not work with another area of language.

Since we cannot observe, analyze, and reproduce incomplete prototypes of speech, that is, languages that are in the process of acquiring even one of these components, we are forced to abandon the use of the scientific method, which we rely on for our knowledge of most scientific phenomena, and left to speculative guessing in our attempt to explain language in terms of evolution.

The best attempts to follow the scientific method we can come up with are in terms of already fully operating languages, not evolving language and we have failed in our attempts to observe non-humans use of fully functioning language. By evolving language, I mean incomplete forms of language that are missing one or more aspects of universal language.

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cogquest said

at 11:54 am on Dec 3, 2008

So far, syntax, the complex hierarchical structure, and the infinite creativity that belongs to human language have not been observed in non-humans, by nature or by extensive coaching. It is still a mystery how children can acquire language effortlessly and without being taught. And though primates can communicate at some level, they have never come close to achieving a form of language that is anywhere near the distinctive language that we as human employ, and even great efforts to produce human-like language in primates have only come about with much laborious training, via the aid of humans who have full language capabilities, and have produced unsatisfactory results.

Until a break through is made that gives us a greater knowledge of how un-complete language could operate, it seems impossible to me to come to any definitive conclusions regarding the incredible phenomena of language.

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Lamar said

at 3:57 pm on Dec 3, 2008

The first key issue that I think we need to resolve is how having language could be beneficial to the individual, not to the group. (Any explanation that resorts to the benefit of the whole group is not a true Darwinian answer.) So, we may need to invoke concepts like kin selection and reciprocal altruism (see, 'tit for tat'). That is, unless we decide that Natural Selection is not the best answer to the question of how language evolved. Perhaps we need to invoke group selection. Once we have come up with a plausible theory we need to see if there is anything we can glean from neurobiology and the analysis of languages today (pidgins, creoles, etc...) that can help us to see if the theory actually works. Of course the facts will always outrun the theory, but that's how it is in any science.

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Lamar said

at 3:58 pm on Dec 3, 2008

In response to Coqquest’s concerns, it is true that the languages we have today are complete and so do not offer us anything useful about how language could have started out, but it is still up for grabs whether or not language even evolved slowly at all. Perhaps it just jumped into existence due to some genetic mutation. Of course, it is folly to talk about single genes (like FOXP2) for single traits, but perhaps such a gene caused whole groups of other traits (that were beneficial to the individual for other reasons) to come together to produce language. Perhaps cognition, and the ability to think in symbols about the past and the future evolved for the mundane reason that they were beneficial to the individual, and then the ability to syntactically (i.e., hierarchically) organize those symbols was caused by genetic mutation like the FOXP2 gene. Or maybe we can look to the social hierarchies of chimps to see if there is any connection between the evolution of the ability to think in terms of a social hierarchy and to syntactically organize symbols of cognition. Then we may be able to invoke Ulbaek’s theory that kin selection was involved. (E.g., any set of genes associated with being able to tell other sets just like itself where food is will be a successful set of genes.)

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Lamar said

at 3:59 pm on Dec 3, 2008

And one more thing. This is what I think needs to be addressed:

1. Can language be explained in terms of Darwinism?

2. How did the relative cognitive capacities associated with language evolved? (World knowledge, symbols, thinking in the past and the future.) (Answer: this is easy to see how it is beneficial to the individual.)

3. How did the ability to syntactically organize those symbols evolved? (Answer: we just don’t know.)

4. How did the ability to communicate the syntactically organized symbols evolve? (Answer: we don’t know, but according to Ulbaek, it can be explained in terms of kin selection.)

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pcalnon said

at 8:22 pm on Dec 3, 2008

I would differ with cogquest on the significance of what amounts to the lack of observable examples of currently evolving nascent languages. This is, in fact, analogous to the situation typically faced by contemporary evolutionary biologists--at least those whose research not limited to the simplest organisms. It is entirely possible to study the evolution of some particular system or organism within the framework of science even if the evolutionary process is not directly or trivially observable.

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pcalnon said

at 10:57 pm on Dec 3, 2008

After some additional consideration, I think that cogquest's point, while certainly not a "show-stopper," does deserve a more rigorous and thorough response than my previous comment. I'm going to use the question page to try to brainstorm a simple, high-level approach that could be used to demonstrate the evolutionary origin of an organism or mechanism using scientific principles. This might also contribute something to the process of answering the initial part of the question.

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pcalnon said

at 11:05 pm on Dec 3, 2008

Two new pages have been created and added to the sidebar.

 

First, a new new "recursion" page has been created and the current contents of the answer page have been copied to it. This will preserve the original version of the Language Recursion paper as the content on the answer page continues to evolve.

 

Second, a new "outline" page has been created and added to the sidebar as a place for the development of and discussions regarding the logical structure of the ideas and arguments related to this paper.

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sevins said

at 11:24 am on Dec 9, 2008

I am not sure if laungage can evolve over time but I do know all babies, across cultures and even those born death share the same babble. Maybe Launguage "evolves" with in a person over time. Or maybe It evolves with in a culture. But a child with the abilty to speak will not learn to speak if they are not imerged in a culture that will help them facilitate a laungage. I dont beleave that it has evolved biologically with in species. If that was true eventually babies would be born with a full laungae and ready yo converes.

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arylwren said

at 10:17 pm on Dec 10, 2008

In response to Cogquest (sp? sorry...) and Lamar, I would like to point out that there are "incomplete" languages--Pidgins. Pidgins become Creoles when they gain native speakers. Creoles become a separate, recognized language when they "evolve" further from the "parent" languages. This final line is not absolute, just like stages in evolution. We can't say exactly (as far as I know) when something became something else it's a gradual process. Creoles gradually change generation by generation into completely separate languages. But my real point is about pidgins. These "incomplete" languages have all the aspects of a full language(phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics), but they vary greatly from speaker to speaker even if they are both speaking the pidgin. (This is similar to dialectal variations but at a much more extreme level.) The phonology, morphology and syntax are especially fluid. The rules are not rigid or "set" yet like they are in an actual language. Pidgins are considered more than just communication, but less than language. Maybe there is some evidence here in how language evolved.

I could have misunderstood you to a great extent, but just thought I'd bring up Pidgins as an example of a "proto-language".

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arylwren said

at 10:19 pm on Dec 10, 2008

(Sorry for the typos.)

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bluehwk5@... said

at 9:52 pm on Dec 11, 2008

I feel that language can evolve over time I just do not think that we are born with the skills we need in order to talk right away but as we grow older, we mimic what we hear from other people and as we get older, we are able to carry on our own conversations even if it is a babble. As far as the pidgin language, even though it is considered an incomplete language it still lacks syntax and all the fundamental laws we need in order to call it language, but its still a language. What about languages we cannot understand? Do we consider that not a language just because we cannot speak or understand it or is it considered a language because there are people who can understand and communicate it back???

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arylwren said

at 10:32 pm on Dec 11, 2008

In regards to bluehwk5 and other things:

 

According to Noam Chomsky and his innateness theory, we ARE born with the skills to speak right away in a certain sense. Our brains were encoded with certain linguistic parameters that need to be set. A popular analogy is that all the hardware is there for language, we just have to give it the software and this software takes about 3-7 years to fully install and load properly. At birth, all babies without any sort of developmental issues or language impairments have to ability to learn ANY language. But as they grow and their brains start to become less plastic and more set, they begin to set all the parameters to the language(s) they are exposed to. Although they can not produce certain sounds at the beginning, there are studies that infants can tell the difference between a "p" and a "b" even when certain aspects of those sounds are artificially manipulated. (These studies are based on how fast/much they suck on a pacifier when presented with different stimuli.) But one important note about child development is that a child's first word often happens soon after they learn to stand and walk. This means that they are spending a greater amount of time in an upright position. Other cognitive processes and motor abilities seem to appear at the same stage for all children and each stage is noted by what the child can do physically.

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arylwren said

at 10:32 pm on Dec 11, 2008

When children spend more time upright, certain anatomical changes happen in their throat (and for the life of me I can never remember if the larynx drops or raises, but I think it drops). This new anatomical arrangement is no longer like our primate relatives or our ancestors and more like that of an adult. I'm not sure about this--so if someone has better knowledge, evidence or time to research it that would be great to find out more--but I think our ancestors gained the anatomical ability for a wide variety of speech sounds not long after (in evolutionary time) they started to be more upright.

 

I know this doesn't explain much about cognitive abilities and whether or not they evolved and if so how, but we seemed to be diverging a bit anyway.

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amohr247 said

at 1:08 am on Dec 12, 2008

I think an improtant issue to raise here is not only if humans evolved to have language but also, what impacts and evolutionary changes have comes about through language itself. In other words, how has language changed/evolved, and how has this change been beneficial to us. It would seem that although language may or may not have a be the core of the evolution of consciousness, it has certainly had a profound effect. Actually language has had a profound effect on many of our cognitive processes. It seems as if language is infused into our higher level cognitive processes. It gives us the ability to easily produce easy to remember labels for our semantic memory, not only could this enhance our use of semantic memory, it allowed us to better organize and give a hierarchtecal structure. Instead of using physical sensual representations for say, water, we were able to take all the properties of water that we know, and generalize them into the category, water. I think the ability and need to communicate was always there for humans, but language gave them the means to do it in an extremely effiecient way.

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amohr247 said

at 1:08 am on Dec 12, 2008

There are several other good examples of how language has infused itself into our cognitive processes. Reasoning, Decision making, short-term memoery, long-term memory all seem to be supplemented, if not supported by language. perhaps the best example of this however is that of our own consicousness. Although it is not clear whether or not our consicousness came from language, the two seems to be inseperable from each other. In other words it doesnt seem we can be fully consicous in today's terms without language, but you clearly cannot have language without being conscious. Perhaps the greatest impact that language has produced, is our ability to think. the ability to go beyond physical reality and give understandable value to our states of mind.(when i say go beyond physical reality i am not implying dualism, merely saying we have the ability to direct ourself away from physical sensations to sensations we can create consiously). the reason i am making these points, is because although it is not clear whether humans evolved into having language, evidence supports the idea that language itself has evolved, and that these changes, have spurred massive evolutionary changes within humans. These changes have occured in virtually every aspect of higher cognition, in fact, language seems to have permeated our entire mental state!

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amohr247 said

at 1:32 am on Dec 12, 2008

Some additional comments on my previous post:

 

It seems to be that language didnt come about all at once. we didnt automatically start walking around, naming words for things, then giving these things syntactical structure and grammatical structure. The beginning of language is most likely much, much simplier than modern day syntacticaly infinite language. I imagine we began by making certain noises to account for certain things in the world, in order to communicate it with someone else. Eventually through social use, these noises became common among a group of people allowing everyone to relate to a common idea or state of mind. I imagine that through more social use, language grew and evolved as we grew and evolved into is current day, seemingly infinitely complex state. THis shows to things, one; it provides mroe evidence to the fact that language itself has evolved and these evolutionary changes led to other evolutionary changes within us as humans. the second thing this implies is that language evolved with its use in society, the more effiecient the language system, the more likely the group is to survive, this applies to the individual basis in society as well, therefore giving some basis for the idea of applying Darwinism mechanisms to the evolution of language

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domnina said

at 12:09 pm on Dec 12, 2008

There are strong evidences that human language originates from the animals’ calls, gestures , and primitive signals. According to the theory of evolution, a human evolved from primates. Primates had a communication within their species, which helped them to interact with the environment and survive. The evolution of the primates’ brain was determined by the process of mastering the hostile environment and strong urge for better adaptation to it. Mastering the primitive tools and necessity of mutual protection, assistance, and group living promoted variety of communicative means. The process of walking upright determined the change in the sensory-motor interaction with environment, and as a result of it, the change of the brain, breathing system, and speech production apparatus. The rising complexity of the actions and surviving tasks led to a more refined and advanced forms of communication. The evolutionary process of physical and cognitive changes within our species inevitably followed up by development of speech. The group existence, or social aspect played a very important role in language development. According to Rousseau view of the origin of language, ’’movable and visible objects were expressed by gestures, and audible ones by imitative sounds”(Origin of Inequality). But primitive language was not useful, for instance, in dark or other dangerous situations, which had required full attention and use of body parts that were engaged in the gestures and primitive communication. The language replaced signals and gesture to assure better fit to a particular situations and surviving conditions. Emergence of more advanced language that can expressed the ideas and objects that are not here and now, negations, questions, and abstract ideas assured this adaptive function . Our modern body language is atavistic evidence of the proto-language used by our ancestors.

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domnina said

at 12:09 pm on Dec 12, 2008

The language is biologically preprogrammed in our brain that is humans have capacity for the language development. This potential capacity is mediated and activated by social environment. The feral children support the idea that in social isolation language does not develop. In my opinion, as the historic epoch may be understood and interpreted by fossils, which bear the traces of how organism appeared, lived, and evolved, as evolution of language is reflected in the development of language of an individual. Discrete stages of the child’s speech development – cooing, babbling, one-word, two-word, sentences, abstract language – mirror the development of language through the long process of evolution

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arylwren said

at 12:43 pm on Dec 12, 2008

Well said, domnina! That was more or less what I was trying to get at, but you definitively have more knowledge of evolution and developmental stages than I do!

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