ok.  that makes a little more sense.  pardon the tangency, but you know how
we are - find a connection with something we're interested in and throw in a
hundred unrelated examples.

> Before we had words for "pig" and
> "goat" was there a word for "animal"? Did language start out generic
> and then become more specific, or did it start out specific with "pig"
> and "goat" and only later develop the concept of generalizations like
> "animal"?

when you say "language" you seem to mean language in general, i.e. really
the first language.  does this have to be a dichotomy?  and: are we talking
about concepts of things, or *words* for them?  or is that the same thing?

i can see your particular example having gone either way: if the concept of
"animal" pre-existed those of "pig" and "goat," the *words* corresponding to
the concepts "pig" and "goat" (having been formed subsequently) could well
have been derived from the word for "animal."  for instance: first, there
was only BEAST, then later there was OINK-BEAST and WOOL-BEAST (goat-hair is
like wool, or something.  you know what i mean) or NOSE-BEAST and HAIR-BEAST
or whatever.

but if (according to your phrasing) the *concepts *of "pig" and "goat"
pre-existed a general "animal"-concept, the *word* for animal could have
been formed based on either pig or goat or cow or water buffalo.  "animal"
could be derived from PIG-LIKE-THING or GOAT-THING or GOAT-PIG or what have

my question:

did human language have to move *in general *either from general to specific
(as in my first example) or from specific to general (as in my second), or
could this not have been on a case-by-case basis (i.e. it went from "animal"
to "pigs+goats" but from "man+woman" to "human")?  your question, as i
understand it (now) appears almost to be psychological - as to whether it is
more complex to conceive of general or specific groups.  i see no reason why
the following three semantic movements could not all happen alongside one
another, as in a "real" "normal" "modern" language:
1. general > specific (animal > pigs+goats; human > man+woman)
2. specific > general (pigs+goats > animal; man+woman > human)
3. specific and general form alongside one another: BEAST(animal) and
OINKY(pig) and HAIR-HORN(goat) are all concepts that have no temporal
precedence over each other whatsoever; since forever, since long before
language, mankind has known of the distinction between
hairy-moving-edible-things and the various subclasses thereof.

let me know if i am misunderstanding.  but we are generally talking about
language hear, and you mentioned a proto-proto-*language*, so when you refer
to "concepts" and concept formation in the context of early language i can
only assume you mean specific words that refer to these concepts.  and when
you talk about concepts anteceding others, and early mankind understanding X
Y and Z as all derivatives of A, i can only suppose you mean that the words
for the earlier thing somehow influence the name choice for the later things
because a link is held to exist between them.  otherwise, what are you
really asking?


On Fri, Jul 22, 2011 at 9:43 AM, Gary Shannon <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> On Thu, Jul 21, 2011 at 10:48 PM, R A Brown <[log in to unmask]>
> wrote:
> > On 21/07/2011 17:32, Gary Shannon wrote:
> > [snip]
> >
> > OK - but 200 000 years is still a long time back.  We
> > have manage to more or less reconstruct a hypothetical
> > Proto-Indo-European - but getting back beyond that is
> > not so easy. I know there are various different Nostratic
> > theories around but, as yet, none AFAIK command general
> > acceptance.  As for Mitochondrial Eve's vocabulary, that
> > can only been speculation at best.
> Let me reiterate. Reconstructing Eve's vocabulary is obviously a
> ridiculous idea, and utterly pointless. That's why I would never
> suggest such a thing.
> What I am interested in is making a plausible list of SEMANTIC
> CONCEPTS that might have been covered by Eve's language. Again, I have
> no interest in, or possible way of knowing, now or forever, what the
> sounds, words, mouth noise, etc. where. I don't care what their word
> for "fire" was, I only care did they have a word, some word, any word,
> that covered the concept of fire.
> That's what I've been trying to get at all along. Not what their
> language WAS, just what their language might have been ABOUT.
> Beginning with what we know for sure, e.g., Eve had no word for
> "Internet", and working backwards to put CONCEPTS into a series order.
> NOT to date them, but to put them in rough sequence. And certainly not
> to know what the words were. That's impossible.  They probably had a
> word, some word, any word for "rain", and probably didn't have any
> word for "wheel". I was interested in coming up with a "most basic"
> word list for a proto-conlang. Kind of like a Swadesh list, but based
> on chronology, or hunter-gatherer technology.
> --gary