Thread: On Linguistics
View Single Post
Old March 26th, 2011, 10:21 pm
canismajoris  Male.gif canismajoris is offline
The Forums Red Hypergiant Star
Join Date: 17th February 2006
Location: əɹəɥ
Age: 36
Posts: 2,766
Re: On Linguistics

Originally Posted by Quickquill View Post
Oh, Auel made the point that the Neanderthal language was just as expressive as spoken language. But for some reason, she postulated in her "Clan of the Cave Bear " series that they didn't vocalize. I know she did a great deal of research before she wrote the books, but I don't know on what basis it was assumed that Neanderthals couldn't speak. Considering that the necessary anatomy is soft tissue that would not have been preserved, why was it assumed it was that different from our own?
Well as for that I'm not sure either. Given that it's a work of fiction, I wouldn't read too much into it. I have heard that theory before, but it was based (if I remember correctly, which I might not) that cranial structure and other physical features indicated that oral speech was less likely to have been useful. Whether that's true or not, they certainly must have communicated in some way. To me, the notion that a human or human-like civilization communicated with signs and body language is a much more interesting one, so maybe that's why the author went with it. Also, I just took a peek at a plot summary, and it seems like a central theme is the differences and similarities among the two species, so it's not a surprising choice to give the Neanderthals a markedly different way of communicating.

Originally Posted by Quickquill View Post
While many small relatively helpless creatures don't vocalize very much, most mammals are capable of a range of vocalizations. And monkeys are notoriously noisy. I see no reason why genus homo as a whole wouldn't have been equally vocal from the start. I see no reason why vocal language should be a late development in our evolution.
I'm inclined to agree... but I would to emphasize the distinction between vocalization and language. I can vocalize all sorts of things that aren't language, and a deaf person can use language without vocalizing anything, so the two are definitely not synonymous. I think looking at your examples in this light will demonstrate the difference between using language and merely mimicking some aspects of it.

Originally Posted by Quickquill View Post
I suspect that it will eventually be recognized that language, whether verbal or visual, is present in most of the animal kingdom as well. Already, bee "dance" is being recognized as a kind of language. And anybody who has ever lived with a dog knows that they understand language, and actually use a kind of Morse code of barks to send messages over distances. ( The "Midnight Bark" of the "101 Dalmations" was an observed phenomenon. Not something the author made up out of whole cloth. The author used it well to further the story though.)
While those are interesting phenomena, I do not believe they are language, which is a pretty specific and narrowly-defined ability. I don't mean to be dismissive at all, and I've read some pretty interesting research, but the way linguists define what language is, no animal comes close.

For example, a dog may learn to associate particular sounds with people and behaviors, but that is much different from understanding language. I speak to my dog quite a bit, and I'm quite sure he has no idea what I'm saying. If I say "up" or "out" or "sit" with a certain tone he knows what I expect him to do, because I've trained him to respond to those sounds. But I can get pretty much identical results by saying different words like "cup" or "pout" or "fit," because they sound rather like the commands he knows. Likewise, if I happen to use a synonym for "up," ("Dog, ascend!") he has no idea. That's because it's not the meaning that he knows, just the sound and the response I've trained him to produce.

Originally Posted by Quickquill View Post
Talking birds, like mynas and parrots sometimes use human language in such an appropriate way that people wonder if they actually understand the proper context for it's use. And what about whale song? Supposedly it changes every year or so. Isn't that an indication that it carries some kind of complex message?
But such birds do not use language any more than a tape recorder uses language. Being able to reproduce sounds is only one small aspect of linguistic competence (and as I've pointed out is not even a necessary one), and as far as I know a mynah bird has never demonstrated the ability to understand what it is saying. It would be just as comfortable imitating the sound of a telephone ring as it would the sentence "I'm going to eat the mynah bird for Thanksgiving." If it could use our language, I'm sure a mynah bird would be quite alarmed by such a sentence, but something tells me this is not the case.

Reply With Quote
Sponsored Links