On Tue, Jan 02, 2007 at 01:08:53AM +0100, Lars Finsen wrote: > >My least favorite part of the book is the last chapter. The author > >attempts to show, in a broad sketch, how language as we know it would > >have developed naturally and inevitably from what he calls the "me > >Tarzan" stage to the fully subordinating structure that we have today. > > This makes me curious. I'd like a very brief outline, please. I know > some people have screwed-up ideas about the origin of language. Is he > one of them? Or is it you? Or is it me? Ok, I will attempt it... His first premise: that there existed a stage where language consisted of 2 or 3 word sentences, where the words were simple invariable words which probably did not pattern as nouns and verbs, although they would naturally have referred to objects and actions due to our experience of the world. He does allow a basic world order of SOV (not sure how he squares this with "no nouns or verbs"!). There are no adjectives, prepositions or other frippery. He starts at this stage because his claim is that existing, observed tendencies of language change can work on this stage to create modern language, but he believes that we cannot know what forces brought speech *to* the multi-word stage. Now, to summarize the chapter... Let me quote his initial example story, and perhaps you will see why I found it a bit patronizing-sounding: girl fruit pick turn mammoth see girl run tree reach climb mammoth tree shake girl yell yell father run spear throw mammoth roar fall father stone take meat cut girl give girl eat finish sleep He states about this that "speakers of any language would be able to follow it without any problem, as long as they understood the meaning of each word" because it "does not rely on any rules peculiar to [...] the grammar of any other particular language", since "the words are strung together according to a few natural principles, which are rooted in the deepest levels of our cognition". That may very well be true, but it is the sort of claim which sounds quackish. Next he goes into more detail about his "me Tarzan" stage of the language. He believes that we should start with only words for physical things, simple actions, and the closed class "this" and "that", which he justifies despite their abstractness since they usually accompany the act of pointing. He spends a couple of pages explaining that his word order above is based on keeping related words together (OV?), actor-first (S..), and chronological order. Digresses to show ancient example of text strung together with "and" keeping phrases in chronological order, states that today's complex web of conjunctions is a recent invention. I remember reading something to that effect about Native American languages that imported conjunctions from Spanish, possibly in Mithun... Next he reminds us that the brain is predisposed to see structure and organize hierarchically, and that he is not taking a stand in the debates over exactly *how* this relates to language (he is Chomsky-agnostic). With that he gets down to business. First topic to tackle: "this" and "that". Better justification for including them as primary words: he claims that in no language have "this" and "that" been traced back to any more concrete origin, only alternating with "here" and "there" which are often built on "this" and "that" and vice versa. Again mentions the pointing, and says that that is why "this" and "that" are more basic than other words with shifting references (such as "here", "there", and all pronouns). In fact, he then shows that pronouns develop from "this", "that" and, where applicable, "that yonder", with language examples. Having provided pronouns, he moves on to ways to include oblique participants in clauses, i.e., adpositions. His 2- and 3-word sentence language had only actors and patients. He states that multiple simple clauses can collapse into one clause via a verb turning into a pre- or post-position, and provides examples from a number of languages. He then declares "and" invented since it can develop from "with". Next he attacks adjectives. He shows that basic words for property objects have been known to develop from words for objects notable for that property, i.e., red from blood, sharp from shard. Then he embarks on a completely gratuitous metaphor regarding the "double life" of property words, their "high life" as predicates (a word he does not use to avoid scaring us) and their "low life" as "appendages" to the noun. This is the sort of ridiculous paraphrase he uses throughout the book, BTW. His justification for how the "property words" became "appendages" is rather threadbare. He claims that "this" and "that" would have begun to be used next to the relevant noun, as in "this stone" or "stone, that" due to the simple need to disambiguate. I gather that he is trying to say that juxtaposition of two nouns could be interpreted by the next generation as a noun and an attribute. Now that I put it that way, it makes more sense. Anyway, he says that once you have "this" and "that" in a modifier-modified relationship with a noun, people could begin using property words the same way by analogy, giving us adjectives. Then he writes "once the principle of appendagehood has been established with one type of appendage, the flood-gates have been opened, and a stream of other types can gush in: plural markers, quantifiers, articles, possessives and so on". He then addresses each of the above in a bullet list of paragraphs to show from what pre-existing words they could have sprung. Having justified all of these noun modifiers, he claims the speakers of the language would have started using them all together to create complex noun phrases, and would also have been open to the idea of stacking modifiers on modifiers, both via simple modifications to the adjective such as comparitives and superlatives, and via recursion of, for example, possessives. Then he hops over to the verb to bring it up to speed. But first he explains why the syntactic categories of nouns and verbs are different than the distinction between action words and object words, and declares that his language has developed abstract noun concepts (it must have done so in order for his property words to have developed from nouns, for example) and therefore now has a syntactic noun-verb distinction. Provides an interesting example (the derivation of the suffix -hood) to demonstrate abstraction from nouns. Another interesting discussion with examples: the fact that nouns are seen to easily give rise to verbs, sometimes simply being verbed wholesale, but that nominalization of verbs has been seen to arise late and usually as a back-formation from a related verb and abstract noun both derived from the same concrete noun. I did not know this. Uses Old French -age to demonstrate. Now he addresses verbs. Refers to previous chapters showing how tense markers and causative/passive forms have been seen to develop from separate words. Interesting demonstration of the progressive abstractification of verb to possession to obligation to marker of likelihood, right here in English: "get me a beer" -> "he's got a car" -> "I've gotta go" -> "she's gotta be there by now". He seems to have a point. Finally says that his language has developed the necessary preconditions to develop subordination. Nominalized verbs can become attributes to nouns. He anthropomorphizes a bit and says that verbs are "used to being at the centre of the action, with numerous participants crowding around them" and therefore would drag other participants in along with them, creating the first relative clause (albeit using participles). He then hand-waves around how the true relative clause with finite verb form and relative- clause marker such as "that" developed, saying that it happened before attested examples and must have been driven by the need for clearer, more explicit relative clauses. He declares victory, as it were, and saunters into the epilogue. Not so bad, really, and the examples are very good. I just found the father-killing-(singlehandedly!?)-the-mammoth-for-his-daughter story a bit too precious. Amanda Late to bed!