Very interesting and clear explanation. Brings together lots of
stuff I anecdotally knew of ...I'll check it out.
Certainly communication is selected for as an evolutionary trait
amongst almost all forms of life. This must apply to the range of
sophistication in communication methods, from slime mold (cAMP) to
humans. DNA is the locus of heritable change, but what gets
selected? Clearly, the two evolutionarily distinct kinds of
communications systems mentioned (symbol use, grammatical social
interactions) rely on the entity's biology. That biology involved
various levels of structure (gene->organ system) allowing the
necessary brain-nervous-musculature system coordination.
Each of these communication system's separate evolutionary histories
implies at least partially distinct sets of genes. It seems awful
likely that these gene sets that allow the various levels structure
to emerge would be selected for.
What's I'd like to point out is that there is a whole biology and
hence genetics that allows for those communication systems to exist
separately in animals and come together in humans. For all complex
phenotypes, behaviors included (ie. language), biology and genetics
has to be part of a progressive description of human behavior.
>In my opinion the best model for the origin of language is that of Derek
>Bickerton: Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the
>Human Brain by Derek Bickerton, William H. Calvin, MIT Press (2001).
>Bickerton has studied creole and pidgin languages and use of symbolism
>in animals, both natural (including birds and other nonmammalian
>species) and experimental, where apes are taught to communicate with
>human symbols. He shows that symbol use is widespread throughout the
>animal world, but is essentially without syntax. Language of human
>aphasics and pidgin languages are mainly asyntactic as well. Primates
>also have another means of commication--nonverbal but highly social.
>Grooming hierarchies are a highly developed example. These interactions
>have a rich "grammatical" stucture but don't use isolated symbols and
>are less widely distributed in nonhuman animals. Human language is a
>confluence of these two systems. which had separate evolutionary
>histories. Perhaps some genetic or epigenetic based shift aided in
>bringing the two together, leading to the abrupt appearance of true
>human languages, but such a trigger is a trivial aspect compared to the
>specificity of the two systems. This brief summary doesn't do justice
>to Bickerton's profound thinking on this subject, compared to which
>Pinker's writings stands as Rush Limbaugh's does to Georg Lukacs.
>From: Ivan Handler
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Sent: 11/28/02 12:31 PM
>Subject: Re: Genetic basis of language
>I see no reason to suppose that symbolic thought, the ability for the
>brain to associate memory objects, is not present in other animals
>including other hominids. It seems to me that it is just as likely that
>the already existing capabilities of mammal (probably mostly anthropoid,
>but who really knows) brains were boosted as human brains became bigger
>and allowed for more play between behavior and memory than with other
>species. Then Michael's idea that language came into existence through
>social interaction makes perfect sense, it is also the most consistent
>with other views of language as a social institution such as in Searle's
>philosophy (see Mind, Language and Society for example).
>In this case the "genetic component" to language is primarily the genes
>that cause the cerebral cortex to be larger in humans, not a component
>very specific to language, more like Stuart's fuse or maybe even like
>the power transformer to his home.
>Josť F. Morales wrote:
>>> But what makes language interesting and useful is that it involves
>>> words as symbols, that is meanings that are conventional as opposed
> >> to bilogically given or fixed.
> >> Does it make sense to suppose that symbolization evolved as a
> >> genetic change or mutation?
>> Since there presumably was a time before symbolic thought, and then
>> it became possible for hominids, the capacity for symbolic thought
>> was developed. That development had to involve a heritable change in
>> brain capacity. That heritable brain capacity change probably
>> involved a heritable change in brain cells of one or many kinds. A
>> heritable change in brain cells (or any cell) is usually (although
>> maybe epigenetic change ie. methylation patterns) thought to involve
>> a genetic change. If this logic is ok, then it would seem a high
>> probability that symbolic thought has a strong genetic component to
>> its evolution.
>>> That seems unlikely to me.
>Networking for Democracy
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>Networking for Democracy
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Jose Morales Ph.D.