(no subject)

X99Lynx at aol.com X99Lynx at aol.com
Sat Feb 6 20:42:03 UTC 1999

[To the moderator - there is a direct connection to historical linguistics at
the end of this message and also it does not leave the prior message's
statement about language's abrupt first appearance unanswered.]

In a message dated 2/6/99 2:00:54 AM, gordonselway at gn.apc.org wrote:

<<However, as with almost any evolutionary change (as I
understand it), it [language] must have arisen 'abruptly' in the sense that
the parents did not have the ability >>

This hardly ever appears to be the case.  What tends to happen is that some
morphological feature that had another function or was part of another
function gradually begins to serve a new function.  E.g., feathers do not
appear to have evolved in connection with flight, but possibly with protecting
the skin or cooling the body.  Gradually (and I emphasize gradually, not
abruptly) feathers started to acquire a function in flight, a trait which
already existed.

With regard to physical sound-making ability, apes communicate not that badly
(e.g., even use grammatical concepts such as verbs and nouns when using
"symbol machines" and such.)  However, though they have been taught to
articulate human words, they use our "speaking" sounds only with difficulty.
They are just not physically capable of finely controlling their sound making

The increase in sound-control capability that occurred in humans may very well
have been a gradual process, starting with a level of skill not much greater
than the other apes.  BUT it may not have been natural selection but cultural
favoritism that over time mainly increased the human physical ability to

In other words, some very early culture (and continuing even as late as the
original PIE speakers' culture itself) may have given some social status or
other reproductive advantage to those who were less physically debilitated in
speaking.  The ability to share more effectively in the progressing innovation
of communication by the spoken word would logically be a social and therefore
a reproductive advantage.  This should not be a surprise, given our own
culture's long disfavor of those with speaking "disabilities."

This is not to say however that one can only take part fully in language as a
"speaker."  It only suggests that the development of language was dependent on
a gradual improvement in the ability to control sounds.

Given the subtlety of the differences in sounds a historical linguist must
deal with, it should be easy to see why fine control of sounds is essential to
the rich diversity found in even the most "proto" of languages.  It follows
that you must have the ability to do such fine controlling in sound BEFORE you
can use sounds to create subtle differences in case, tense, etc.  And that is
why the ability to fine-control sounds may have been the essential ingredient
that made human language possible.

Steve Long

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