How new languages emerge


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Engaging and original, this book offers an interesting account of language acquisition, variation and change. How New Languages Emerge. David Lightfoot. New languages are constantly emerging, as existing languages diverge into different forms. Historical Linguistics Selected Papers from the 17th International Can we imagine a historian attempting to explain the emergence of credit cards independently of the wider system of which they are a part?

Using a credit card makes sense only if you have a bank account institutionally recognized within a certain kind of advanced capitalist society—one where electronic communications technology and digital computers have already been invented and fraud can be detected and prevented. In much the same way, language would not work outside a specific array of social mechanisms and institutions. For example, it would not work for a nonhuman ape communicating with others in the wild.

Not even the cleverest nonhuman ape could make language work under such conditions. Lie and alternative, inherent in language I have therefore argued that if there are to be words at all it is necessary to establish The Word , and that The Word is established by the invariance of liturgy. Advocates of this school of thought point out that words are cheap. As digital hallucinations [ clarification needed ] , they are intrinsically unreliable.

Should an especially clever nonhuman ape, or even a group of articulate nonhuman apes, try to use words in the wild, they would carry no conviction. The primate vocalizations that do carry conviction—those they actually use—are unlike words, in that they are emotionally expressive, intrinsically meaningful and reliable because they are relatively costly and hard to fake. Language consists of digital contrasts whose cost is essentially zero. As pure social conventions, signals of this kind cannot evolve in a Darwinian social world — they are a theoretical impossibility.

It involves addressing the evolutionary emergence of human symbolic culture as a whole, with language an important but subsidiary component. Critics of the theory include Noam Chomsky, who terms it the 'non-existence' hypothesis—a denial of the very existence of language as an object of study for natural science.

The Origins and Evolution of Language - Michael Corballis - TEDxAuckland

While it is possible to imitate the making of tools like those made by early Homo under circumstances of demonstration, research on primate tool cultures show that non-verbal cultures are vulnerable to environmental change. In particular, if the environment in which a skill can be used disappears for a longer period of time than an individual ape's or early human's lifespan, the skill will be lost if the culture is imitative and non-verbal.

Chimpanzees, macaques and capuchin monkeys are all known to lose tool techniques under such circumstances. Researchers on primate culture vulnerability therefore argue that since early Homo species as far back as Homo habilis retained their tool cultures despite many climate change cycles at the timescales of centuries to millennia each, these species had sufficiently developed language abilities to verbally describe complete procedures, and therefore grammar and not only two-word "proto-language".

The theory that early Homo species had sufficiently developed brains for grammar is also supported by researchers who study brain development in children, noting that grammar is developed while connections across the brain are still significantly lower than adult level. These researchers argue that these lowered system requirements for grammatical language make it plausible that the genus Homo had grammar at connection levels in the brain that were significantly lower than those of Homo sapiens and that more recent steps in the evolution of the human brain were not about language.

Structural linguistics is an approach to the study of language founded by Ferdinand de Saussure and popularised through his posthumously published book Course in General Linguistics Whatever may have been the moment and the circumstances of its appearance in the ascent of animal life, language can only have arisen all at once. Things cannot have begun to signify gradually. In the wake of a transformation which is not a subject of study for the social sciences, but for biology and psychology, a shift occurred from a stage when nothing had a meaning to another stage when everything had meaning.

Thus, language, according to structuralism , must have appeared all at once and not gradually since a semi-language is impossible. According to Chomsky's single mutation theory, the emergence of language resembled the formation of a crystal; with digital infinity as the seed crystal in a super-saturated primate brain, on the verge of blossoming into the human mind, by physical law, once evolution added a single small but crucial keystone.

Berwick, suggests it is completely compatible with modern biology. They note "none of the recent accounts of human language evolution seem to have completely grasped the shift from conventional Darwinism to its fully stochastic modern version—specifically, that there are stochastic effects not only due to sampling like directionless drift, but also due to directed stochastic variation in fitness, migration, and heritability—indeed, all the "forces" that affect individual or gene frequencies.

All this can affect evolutionary outcomes—outcomes that as far as we can make out are not brought out in recent books on the evolution of language, yet would arise immediately in the case of any new genetic or individual innovation, precisely the kind of scenario likely to be in play when talking about language's emergence. What we do not see is any kind of "gradualism" in new tool technologies or innovations like fire, shelters, or figurative art. This is not 'overnight in one generation' as some have incorrectly inferred—but neither is it on the scale of geological eons.

It's time enough—within the ballpark for what Nilsson and Pelger estimated as the time required for the full evolution of a vertebrate eye from a single cell, even without the invocation of any 'evo-devo' effects.


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Further Information : Prefrontal Synthesis. The Romulus and Remus hypothesis, proposed by neuroscientist Andrey Vyshedskiy, proposes that there were two phases that led to modern recursive language. The first phase includes the slow development of non-recursive language with a large vocabulary along with the modern speech apparatus, which includes changes to the hyoid bone, increased voluntary control of the muscles of the diaphragm, the evolution of the FOXP2 gene, as well as other changes by , years ago.

This step consisted of three distinct events that happened in quick succession around 70, years ago and allowed for the shift from non-recursive to recursive language in early hominins. This hypothesis seeks to address the question as to why the modern speech apparatus originated over , years before the earliest signs of modern human imagination.

Vyshedskiy suggests that it was the convergence of 1 a genetic mutation that slowed down the Prefrontal Synthesis PFS critical period of at least 2 children, which allowed for 2 the children to create recursive elements of language such as spatial prepositions, which were then 3 merged with their parent's non-recursive language to create recursive language. Since, their parents would not have invented these elements yet, the children would have had to do it themselves, which is a common occurrence among young children that live together, in a process called cryptophasia.

Of course, delayed PFC development comes with downsides, such as a longer period of reliance on one's parents to survive, and lower survival rates.

Types of Language Change

For modern language to have occurred, PFC delay had to have an immense survival benefit in later life, such as PFS ability. This suggests that the mutation that caused PFC delay and the development of recursive language and PFS occurred simultaneously, which lines up with evidence of a genetic bottleneck around 70, years ago. The gestural theory states that human language developed from gestures that were used for simple communication.

Research has found strong support for the idea that verbal language and sign language depend on similar neural structures. Patients who used sign language, and who suffered from a left- hemisphere lesion , showed the same disorders with their sign language as vocal patients did with their oral language. Primate gesture is at least partially genetic: different nonhuman apes will perform gestures characteristic of their species, even if they have never seen another ape perform that gesture.

For example, gorillas beat their breasts.

This shows that gestures are an intrinsic and important part of primate communication, which supports the idea that language evolved from gesture. Further evidence suggests that gesture and language are linked. In humans, manually gesturing has an effect on concurrent vocalizations, thus creating certain natural vocal associations of manual efforts. Chimpanzees move their mouths when performing fine motor tasks. These mechanisms may have played an evolutionary role in enabling the development of intentional vocal communication as a supplement to gestural communication.

Voice modulation could have been prompted by preexisting manual actions. There is also the fact that, from infancy, gestures both supplement and predict speech. This too serves as a parallel to the idea that gestures developed first and language subsequently built upon it. Two possible scenarios have been proposed for the development of language, [80] one of which supports the gestural theory:. The first perspective that language evolved from the calls of our ancestors seems logical because both humans and animals make sounds or cries.

One evolutionary reason to refute this is that, anatomically, the center that controls calls in monkeys and other animals is located in a completely different part of the brain than in humans.

Origin of language

In monkeys, this center is located in the depths of the brain related to emotions. In the human system, it is located in an area unrelated to emotion. Humans can communicate simply to communicate—without emotions. So, anatomically, this scenario does not work. The important question for gestural theories is why there was a shift to vocalization.

Various explanations have been proposed:. A comparable hypothesis states that in 'articulate' language, gesture and vocalisation are intrinsically linked, as language evolved from equally intrinsically linked dance and song. These sign languages are equal in complexity, sophistication, and expressive power, to any oral language [ citation needed ]. The cognitive functions are similar and the parts of the brain used are similar. The main difference is that the "phonemes" are produced on the outside of the body, articulated with hands, body, and facial expression, rather than inside the body articulated with tongue, teeth, lips, and breathing.

Critics of gestural theory note that it is difficult to name serious reasons why the initial pitch-based vocal communication which is present in primates would be abandoned in favor of the much less effective non-vocal, gestural communication. Other challenges to the "gesture-first" theory have been presented by researchers in psycholinguistics , including David McNeill.

Proponents of the motor theory of language evolution have primarily focused on the visual domain and communication through observation of movements. The Tool-use sound hypothesis suggests that the production and perception of sound also contributed substantially, particularly incidental sound of locomotion ISOL and tool-use sound TUS. That may have stimulated the evolution of musical abilities, auditory working memory, and abilities to produce complex vocalizations, and to mimic natural sounds.

The prevalence of sound symbolism in many extant languages supports this idea. Self-produced TUS activates multimodal brain processing motor neurons , hearing, proprioception , touch, vision , and TUS stimulates primate audiovisual mirror neurons, which is likely to stimulate the development of association chains.

Tool use and auditory gestures involve motor-processing of the forelimbs, which is associated with the evolution of vertebrate vocal communication.

How New Languages Emerge

The production, perception, and mimicry of TUS may have resulted in a limited number of vocalizations or protowords that were associated with tool use. Humans have been increasingly exposed to TUS over millions of years, coinciding with the period during which spoken language evolved. In humans, functional MRI studies have reported finding areas homologous to the monkey mirror neuron system in the inferior frontal cortex , close to Broca's area , one of the language regions of the brain.

Mirror neurons have been said to have the potential to provide a mechanism for action-understanding, imitation-learning, and the simulation of other people's behavior. Rates of vocabulary expansion link to the ability of children to vocally mirror non-words and so to acquire the new word pronunciations. Such speech repetition occurs automatically, quickly [89] and separately in the brain to speech perception.

Analysis of the data using Granger Causality revealed that the mirror-neuron system of the observer indeed reflects the pattern of activity of in the motor system of the sender, supporting the idea that the motor concept associated with the words is indeed transmitted from one brain to another using the mirror system. Not all linguists agree with the above arguments, however. In particular, supporters of Noam Chomsky argue against the possibility that the mirror neuron system can play any role in the hierarchical recursive structures essential to syntax.

How new languages emerge How new languages emerge
How new languages emerge How new languages emerge
How new languages emerge How new languages emerge
How new languages emerge How new languages emerge
How new languages emerge How new languages emerge

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