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HD: More on Animal Language
Posted: 18 July 2012 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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What would a dog or an ape have to do to exhibit real language?

Become human. Language is (so far as we know) peculiarly a human trait. Ability to communicate isn’t.

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Posted: 18 July 2012 01:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I would agree that it’s important not to confuse biological evolution with linguistic evolution, but I don’t see any reasonable basis for your statement there, LH. The term is used by linguists to refer to language change, see e.g. here.

The basis is that he is confusing them.  It’s used by linguists as a metaphor; I guarantee you that no reputable linguist thinks that a language losing some morphological complexity is evolution in a Darwinian sense, which is what’s being claimed.

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Posted: 18 July 2012 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Hmmm.

Selfish Sounds and Linguistic Evolution: A Darwinian Approach to Language Change

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Posted: 18 July 2012 06:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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If you’re going to look at language through the lens of evolution, then you have to accept that today’s grammar is the most highly evolved and adapted. Evolution only runs in one direction… forward. Adaptations can take a species in many directions, but none are ever “less evolved.”

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Posted: 18 July 2012 07:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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If you’re going to look at language through the lens of evolution, then you have to accept that today’s grammar is the most highly evolved and adapted.

Not really.  “Most highly evolved” doesn’t really mean anything even in biological evolution, and there are for instance examples of organisms evolving from complex free-living forms into simpler parasites, with the loss of entire organs.  Moreover, looking at language “though the lens of evolution” doesn’t have to mean accepting that a Darwinian model offers a complete explanation of language change.

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Posted: 18 July 2012 08:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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and there are for instance examples of organisms evolving from complex free-living forms into simpler parasites, with the loss of entire organs.

Exactly my point. They evolved from one thing to another; the complexity of the organism isn’t necessarily a measure of how much evolution has happened. The loss of the organs was through evolution, therefore the parasite is more evolved than the “complex” form. My point was that the concept of “more evolved” is pointless. If that which exists evolved from something else, then that which exists, by definition, is “more evolved.”

Also, if it’s survival of the fittest, then that which exists has survived and must be the fittest. You can’t say that the rules are survival of the fittest but somehow that process reached its peak some time in the past and it’s been downhill since then.

If there are rules to how language evolves, then language is following those rules now just as it always has and today’s language is the fruitful bloom of those rules, not the bastard stepchild of a lost golden age of grammar.

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Posted: 18 July 2012 10:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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I’m willing to concede that it is possible that language has influenced human evolution. If possessing language improves one’s survival chances *, then having a brain with more language capability would be likely to improve your chances further.
This would probably depend on language being hundreds of thousands or millions of years old, rather than a few tens of thousands.

* I suppose we can all think of counterexamples…

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Posted: 19 July 2012 04:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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Hundreds of thousands, perhaps, but not necessarily millions. One only need point to the demise of the Neanderthals, some 40,000 years ago. (Not that their extinction was a result of language—we have no idea how or why they went extinct, lots of hypotheses, but no good evidence—but only that major changes in the hominid line have occurred relatively recently.)

Plus, what is “language”? Even a rudimentary linguistic capability could improve the probability of survival for members of a social species. You don’t need a language on the scale of PIE to derive benefits from it. It’s easy to see that language and the human brain may have been developing in tandem for millions of years, even if what we now consider “language,” in all its glory, only emerged about a hundred thousand years ago.

Other significant technological (you can consider language a type of technology) developments that have influence human evolution in relatively recent history include cooking food (enables more efficient digestion and decreases pressures caused by lack of food) and the baby sling (allowing women with infants to participate in the group’s economy, freeing their hands for crafts, and thereby leading to further development of the brain). We not only make our tools, but our tools make us.

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Posted: 19 July 2012 05:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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the baby sling (allowing women with infants to participate in the group’s economy, freeing their hands for crafts, and thereby leading to further development of the brain)

I am so grateful to that ancient inventor.  Without him (and of course from that statement it had to be a male), the female brain would obviously not have evolved to anywhere near the present complexity of the male brain, an organ of constant wonder to us females.

We therefore owe a huge debt of gratitude, which we try to express in our own inimitable little way, to you males, but please excuse us if we fail occasionally to achieve the evolutionary miracle that is man.

Anyway, I think cats are far smarter than dogs.

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Posted: 19 July 2012 09:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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THE interesting question, I think, is: “Is language change driven by Darwinian forces or just an artefact of the way we learn and pass on language, something unmediated by evolutionary pressures, that simply is?” I can see one possible Darwinian mechanism: the tribe that “evolves” its language away from its neighbours has an instant way to recognise, through the mechanism of the “shibboleth”, the potentially dangerous stranger, and is therefore safer.

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Posted: 19 July 2012 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Zythophile - 19 July 2012 09:00 AM

THE interesting question, I think, is: “Is language change driven by Darwinian forces or just an artefact of the way we learn and pass on language, something unmediated by evolutionary pressures, that simply is?” I can see one possible Darwinian mechanism: the tribe that “evolves” its language away from its neighbours has an instant way to recognise, through the mechanism of the “shibboleth”, the potentially dangerous stranger, and is therefore safer.

Genetic evolutionary change isn’t “driven by Darwinian forces”.  It’s driven by random changes in the genes.  The selection is guided by Darwinian forces.

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Posted: 19 July 2012 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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Zythophile - 19 July 2012 09:00 AM

THE interesting question, I think, is: “Is language change driven by Darwinian forces or just an artefact of the way we learn and pass on language, something unmediated by evolutionary pressures, that simply is?” I can see one possible Darwinian mechanism: the tribe that “evolves” its language away from its neighbours has an instant way to recognise, through the mechanism of the “shibboleth”, the potentially dangerous stranger, and is therefore safer.

The shibboleth scenario seems pretty compelling because it identifies a societal pressure involving choice exercised by the speakers of the language. Faldage seems to identify externally imposed pressures.

Eliza: Now, I’m sure that Dave was suggesting women’s improvement to the brain would have only allowed men to catch up with them, or at least think they were able to.

Dr. T: Thanks for the link. I’ll have to get a copy.

[ Edited: 19 July 2012 05:21 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 19 July 2012 07:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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I am so grateful to that ancient inventor

He was simply fulfilling his manifest destiny, ElizaD. As Mr. Kingsley once wrote:

For men must shirk, and women must sweep,
For there’s little to earn, and many to keep

(edit: corrected spelling)

[ Edited: 19 July 2012 09:36 PM by lionello ]
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Posted: 20 July 2012 02:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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the baby sling (allowing women with infants to participate in the group’s economy, freeing their hands for crafts, and thereby leading to further development of the brain)

Note I said “the brain,” not “the woman’s brain.” The beneficial traits selected for would be passed on to both female and male offspring. Nor did I make any statement about the sex of the inventor, as if we could possibly know that. (Although if you go with the axiom that “necessity is the mother of invention,” the inventor was probably a woman. After all, she would have the motivation to make the thing.)

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Posted: 20 July 2012 05:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Faldage - 19 July 2012 09:22 AM

Zythophile - 19 July 2012 09:00 AM
THE interesting question, I think, is: “Is language change driven by Darwinian forces or just an artefact of the way we learn and pass on language, something unmediated by evolutionary pressures, that simply is?” I can see one possible Darwinian mechanism: the tribe that “evolves” its language away from its neighbours has an instant way to recognise, through the mechanism of the “shibboleth”, the potentially dangerous stranger, and is therefore safer.

Genetic evolutionary change isn’t “driven by Darwinian forces”.  It’s driven by random changes in the genes.  The selection is guided by Darwinian forces.

With respect, I don’t believe I said what you say I said: very probably I didn’t make myself clear. I wasn’t actually talking about genetic evolutionary change: what I was trying to say was, given the existence of language change in the first place, does it provide an evolutionary benefit, in which case Darwinian forces will tend to perpetuate language change, since tribes that undergo language change will have a better survival rate than those who do not, or has language change remained part of human history simply because it’s unavoidable, regardless of any evolutionary benefits/disbenefits. Genes don’t enter into it, or at least, don’t have to enter into it.

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