Print

Print


> Joshua Shinavier scripsit:
>
> > Do linguists generally think
> > that language emerged in one place (e.g. if the first Homo sapiens in Africa
> > had a language) and then spread, or evolved independently in several
different
> > places/times?
>
> I think the majority view is that language originated only once,
> but that this event is not now recoverable, as the various language
> phyla (super-families) have differentiated so much as to make
> reconstructing their original relationships impossible.

So how far back can we actually go (with any certainty)?  Indo-European seems
to be fairly well reconstructed; any idea where *that* came from?
...hmmm, never mind -- "Nostratic"'s the name, the parent of Indo-European,
Kartvelian, Afro-Asiatic, Dravidian, Uralic, Altaic, Chukchi-Kamchatkan
(whatever that is), and Eskimo-Aleut languages -- so basically the source of
nearly every language imaginable.  Isn't that going a little far?  I mean,
they don't even seem to have any intermediate points between allll these very
diverse families of languages and their one common ancestor, like taking
modern French, German and Hindi as a base to go after Indo-European with, only
even worse.  If these families are all to have split off directly from this
very same Nostratic then we're supposing more of an evolutionary bush than
an evolutionary tree...


> >I think the majority view is that language originated only once,
>
> This is probably the majority view.  I think it's generally believed that
> Homo (Sapiens) Sapiens always had language - though arguments will
> doubtless continue over the nature of the 'Ursprach'.  Whether Homo
> (Sapiens) Neanderthalis had language is far more controversial and IMHO
> unlikely.

The evidence points to some unexpetedly complex group behavior among
Neanderthals; they organized hunts together, they had ritual burials, they
took care of the old and the wounded, they may even have had music (I dimly
recall the discovery of a fragment of a bone flute at a Neanderthal site,
but I'm not at all sure about this).  To me this kind of behavior indicates
that they must have had some sort of language, even it was only a gesture-
language or such, IMEHO (in my even humbler opinion).


> > A long time ago I saw a TV program about evolutionary linguistics where a
> > scientist claimed to have found a word (the meaning had to do with milk,
> > "to suckle", IIRC) which was common, in variation, to all families of
languages;
>
> Probably referring to words like /ma/ which commonly refer to mother,
> nipple, breast or to suckle.  These are generally concede to a
> physiological basis, i.e., the position of the mouth and tongue while
> nursing.  I discovered the /ma/ phenomenon when I was about 16 and
> thought everyone would be surprised at my profound insight :)

Mmm-hm, I once tried to de-bias my words for these things (which tended always
to contain m and o) but it just didn't work; nothing sounded right which didn't
contain at least an m.  I think there has to be something more to these
patterns, at least in my own head, than just Indo-European language habits.


> > places/times?  Apparently even the Neanderthals had rudimentary language, so
>
> Still another unprovable.  There are those who think, explicitly or
> implicitly, that anyone who thinks the Neandertals are not full fledged
> Homo sapiens are racists.  Other more reasonable types (like me for
> instance) see no insult and perhaps a compliment in suggesting they
> are better termed Homo neanderthaliensis.  I doubt language because of
> the limited evidence for symbolic activity but that certainly reflects
> my above mentioned hypothesis.  If the first is wrong, the second may
> be, in any case it is unprovable.  Some have attempted to prove or
> disprove on the basis of physiology which rests on the premise that
> language is language only if it is articulated as H. sapiens do.

Neanderthal sites are notoriously uneventful, but there is at least a little
evidence for symbolic behavior, e.g. their burial practices.  I don't see any
problems with the possibility of a gesture-language, poss. augmented by
gutteral noises, tongue-clicking, etc., even if they lacked the anatomy to
produce articulate sounds...


> The whole argument precipitated a major flame war on the Paleoanthro
> list when it first started.  I got tired of it and left after a few
> months.  BTW, someone has recently suggested that Neandertals look so
> different because of an iodine
> defeciency in their diet !!!

Doesn't surprise me at all.  End discrimination against the Neanderthals!
Even million-year-dead people have their rights! :-)


Thanks for all your input!

Josh Shinavier