What came first?

Discussions unearthing human history including cultural anthropology, linguistics, etc.

Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 4th, 2013, 1:24 am 

Thanks Forest! Big help.
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Re: What came first?

Postby owleye on November 4th, 2013, 8:01 am 

Gregorygregg1 wrote:Problems in understanding stem from conflicting beliefs. I read BadgerJelly's post as a speculation about the origins of language. I recently read an article in which the decision making of herd animals was discussed. The herd has a problem, the water hole is a dangerous place. Predators know they must come there, so that is where they wait. The herd decides when to go to the watering hole in this way, when the weakest member of the herd becomes thirsty, they look toward the watering hole. Soon others sense their own dehydration and look toward the watering hole. If there are 100 members in the herd, the moment that the 51st herd member looks toward the watering hole, the herd begins to move. I believe this is the kind of sign language Badger is referring to. It is also a demonstration of natural democracy.


It's an interesting topic. I'm not a lumper, however, in this regard. Not every thing counts as language. I'm not even sure what you describe counts as communication, and not every form of communication is a language, in my view. However, that's not what I'm frustrated about in BadgerJelly's post. I would agree that he has something in mind, but his thinking seems to me to be digressive in nature. One thing leads to something else, which leads to something else, and in trying to read his mind, I'm not able to follow what he is talking about. It makes no sense to me.

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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 4th, 2013, 9:16 am 

James

I get frustrated too. More often than not though I find our conversations helpful in various ways. I hope you, at least, occasionally get something out of them too, no matter how remote that something maybe.

You are slowly helping me to teach myself a different way of conveying ideas so they can benefit from a wider audience, either by being destroyed or renewed.

If views and methods oppose I like to think that something is being learned, no matter how obscure it may be at the time.

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Re: What came first?

Postby Gregorygregg1 on November 6th, 2013, 4:44 am 

owleye wrote:
It's an interesting topic. I'm not a lumper, however, in this regard. Not every thing counts as language. I'm not even sure what you describe counts as communication, and not every form of communication is a language, in my view. However, that's not what I'm frustrated about in BadgerJelly's post. I would agree that he has something in mind, but his thinking seems to me to be digressive in nature. One thing leads to something else, which leads to something else, and in trying to read his mind, I'm not able to follow what he is talking about. It makes no sense to me.

James


What then is communication, and what is language? Badgerjelly tells me that I have misread his meaning, and that he is looking for an answer based on neuroscience. For me that is the mechanics, not the thing itself. He wants to know what gear works the second hand. He wants meat. I'm a vegetarian.
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Re: What came first?

Postby owleye on November 6th, 2013, 11:20 am 

Gregorygregg1 wrote:What then is communication, and what is language? Badgerjelly tells me that I have misread his meaning, and that he is looking for an answer based on neuroscience. For me that is the mechanics, not the thing itself. He wants to know what gear works the second hand. He wants meat. I'm a vegetarian.


Well, I count it as a digression. No matter, I personally think he should organize his thoughts before launching his ideas. On the issue of beliefs = consciousness, for example, had he done so he might have seen this to be a category mistake.

On thinking about your herd example, similar, I suppose, to a flight of geese, one may suppose this is an adaptation that is helpful to a population, which, I believe is the consensus view of the target for thinking about the unit of evolution, notwithstanding that the allele is the target for evolutionary change. I'm trying to recall from a text book that I no longer have the exact terminology and definitions used, but, alas, my memory fades.

Anyway, what I'm thinking is going on in these examples, is that each member of the flock is observing her relation to the others, one in which any of the members could wind up being the lead who, though, seems to call the others, like the dog that "leads you" is actually following where she thinks the flock wants to go. It's not so much communication as it is being directed (stimulated to act) by what is observed in consideration of the state of each of them, for example, in an anxious state. One's brain cells act on thresholds, and so it is the case with such actions overall.

Communication, however, is more complex and there are textbooks which do a better job that I'll be able to do. In the first instance, I believe, one needs to break it down into messages transmitted and received. Secondly, there is a need for feedback in the form of acknowledgements of receipt. Thirdly, there has to be some kind of protocol in which there is some level of understanding of the meaning that is shared in the receipt of the meaning. Now it is said that bees have developed a means of communication by some sort of bee activity that in turn lets others know where something is. I cannot attest to this, but one presumably may ascribe the protocol that carries that meaning to be genetically determined in each bee. The chemical trail that ants leave behind probably doesn't rise to the level of communication. And the termites who build their mounds seem to be communicating with each other but, like the herd, each has within it the knowledge of when the they have completed the task, so perhaps it doesn't quite rise to the level of communication.

Language, in so far as it is useful in communication (assuming language has other facets to it besides communication, for example, in expressing something without regard to its being communicated to others, notwithstanding Wittgenstein's "no private language" argument), takes the form of an encoding which allows tokens to be used to convey properties (types or classes or concepts) needed in communication and a structure to make sense of the different sorts of meaning that are needed to be conveyed. I'm speaking off the top of my head, here, and I'm sure there are text books that define language in greater detail than I'm able to do so. If I recall, in computer science text books, one will find a definition that amounts to an n-tuple of properties (n = 5 or 6, if I recall), but this was something brought to me some 40 or so years ago. I suspect lots of progress since then.

The question arises whether works of art meet the definition of language. Despite aspects of form, structure and organization that may or may not be significant, I would think art itself isn't a language. Psychologists, of course, have read into works of art much symbology, and one might be tempted to think of it as language, but I have my doubts. Sheet music, however, probably can be interpreted as a language because it only indirectly represents the music, and does so in the form of a code, the coding itself having meaning only for the role it plays as a token, not as a symbol (in the psychological sense of this term).

One may question whether art is a form of communication. Certainly political works of art are supposed to communicate. And I do recognize that there are folks who just have to think of it as a form of communication, but the difficulty with it that I see is that folks (the audience or critic) don't (at least necessarily) respond to the works in ways that the artist would seem to have in mind. It's a bit of a gray area, I can imagine.

I'm not all that satisfied by these top-of-the-head distinctions, but the point I'm making of them is to get clearer about the terms we so casually use on this board at times.

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Re: What came first?

Postby Gregorygregg1 on November 6th, 2013, 6:43 pm 

owleye wrote:On thinking about your herd example, similar, I suppose, to a flight of geese, one may suppose this is an adaptation that is helpful to a population, which, I believe is the consensus view of the target for thinking about the unit of evolution, notwithstanding that the allele is the target for evolutionary change. I'm trying to recall from a text book that I no longer have the exact terminology and definitions used, but, alas, my memory fades.

Anyway, what I'm thinking is going on in these examples, is that each member of the flock is observing her relation to the others, one in which any of the members could wind up being the lead who, though, seems to call the others, like the dog that "leads you" is actually following where she thinks the flock wants to go. It's not so much communication as it is being directed (stimulated to act) by what is observed in consideration of the state of each of them, for example, in an anxious state. One's brain cells act on thresholds, and so it is the case with such actions overall.

Communication, however, is more complex and there are textbooks which do a better job that I'll be able to do. In the first instance, I believe, one needs to break it down into messages transmitted and received. Secondly, there is a need for feedback in the form of acknowledgements of receipt. Thirdly, there has to be some kind of protocol in which there is some level of understanding of the meaning that is shared in the receipt of the meaning. Now it is said that bees have developed a means of communication by some sort of bee activity that in turn lets others know where something is. I cannot attest to this, but one presumably may ascribe the protocol that carries that meaning to be genetically determined in each bee. The chemical trail that ants leave behind probably doesn't rise to the level of communication. And the termites who build their mounds seem to be communicating with each other but, like the herd, each has within it the knowledge of when the they have completed the task, so perhaps it doesn't quite rise to the level of communication.


my take on communication is exactly as you have described. I suspect mirror neurons are involved, and according to V.S. Ramachandran, they are the foundation of language because they permit us to interpret the behaviors of our fellows. when a message is sent, received and correctly interpreted, communication has occurred. I think I misunderstood your meaning when you stated that because "the protocol that carries that meaning to be genetically determined in each bee. The chemical trail that ants leave behind probably doesn't rise to the level of communication." This would be equivalent to saying a street sign in the shape of an arrow pointing in a certain direction is not communication. Whatever the mechanism or "protocol is used to interpret it, if the desired behavior is forthcoming, the message has been sent, received, and acknowledged by the behavior. Whether it is a bee, termite, ant or human, the result is cooperative effort, and that requires communication of information. It is not pertinent to the exchange of information whether that takes the form of chemical trails, the visual cues of a dancing bee, or speech.

Language, in so far as it is useful in communication (assuming language has other facets to it besides communication, for example, in expressing something without regard to its being communicated to others, notwithstanding Wittgenstein's "no private language" argument), takes the form of an encoding which allows tokens to be used to convey properties (types or classes or concepts) needed in communication and a structure to make sense of the different sorts of meaning that are needed to be conveyed. I'm speaking off the top of my head, here, and I'm sure there are text books that define language in greater detail than I'm able to do so. If I recall, in computer science text books, one will find a definition that amounts to an n-tuple of properties (n = 5 or 6, if I recall), but this was something brought to me some 40 or so years ago. I suspect lots of progress since then.

The question arises whether works of art meet the definition of language. Despite aspects of form, structure and organization that may or may not be significant, I would think art itself isn't a language. Psychologists, of course, have read into works of art much symbology, and one might be tempted to think of it as language, but I have my doubts. Sheet music, however, probably can be interpreted as a language because it only indirectly represents the music, and does so in the form of a code, the coding itself having meaning only for the role it plays as a token, not as a symbol (in the psychological sense of this term).

One may question whether art is a form of communication. Certainly political works of art are supposed to communicate. And I do recognize that there are folks who just have to think of it as a form of communication, but the difficulty with it that I see is that folks (the audience or critic) don't (at least necessarily) respond to the works in ways that the artist would seem to have in mind. It's a bit of a gray area, I can imagine.

I'm not all that satisfied by these top-of-the-head distinctions, but the point I'm making of them is to get clearer about the terms we so casually use on this board at times.

James


I agree, Language is a step away from communication. It resembles a cash economy because it involves the exchange of tokens. I give you a few words which are abstract tokens representing what is in my mind, and you produce an approximation of what is in my head in your own. I have bought communication with these tokens.

I would address your question about the language content of art. When we make art, We do so for a number of reasons that may be interpreted as communication or language. First there is the communication between the creative urge, the artist and the medium. This is the communication that happens when you compose your thoughts on paper. I would not place this at the level of language, although language is involved. You recognize that language is the use of tokens to convey information. In the case of a painting for instance, the object is to create an effect in the mind of another. The tokens of this language are the color, contrast, chiaroscuro, line, mass, density and gesture that the artist uses. This is required to change a flat white piece of canvas into something your mind interprets as having depth, mood, detail and movement. It is a complex language that has evolved just as spoken and written language have evolved. You may observe this evolution by looking at any art history book. As far as how a work of art is interpreted by the observer, it is the same with spoken or written language. The communication that occurs depends not only upon how articulate the artist is, but upon what the listener is prepared to hear, or what the viewer is prepared to see. Much of visual art is couched in metaphor. This does not mean paint cannot deliver an unambiguous message. Most other species can no more interpret a painted image than they can spoken or written language.
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Re: What came first?

Postby owleye on November 6th, 2013, 7:33 pm 

Gregorygregg1 wrote:
my take on communication is exactly as you have described. I suspect mirror neurons are involved, and according to V.S. Ramachandran, they are the foundation of language because they permit us to interpret the behaviors of our fellows. when a message is sent, received and correctly interpreted, communication has occurred.


This is not "exactly" what I described. You may have notice I included an acknowledgment piece to communications. It's important the both the sender and receiver recognize that the communication you speak of has occurred. And even with acknowledgements it may not happen.

Gregorygregg1 wrote:I think I misunderstood your meaning when you stated that because "the protocol that carries that meaning to be genetically determined in each bee. The chemical trail that ants leave behind probably doesn't rise to the level of communication." This would be equivalent to saying a street sign in the shape of an arrow pointing in a certain direction is not communication.


Well, arrows are signs, yes, and they communicate something to us because of their shape. However it's more complicated than that because there is all sorts of things going on respecting that sign that have a bearing on the meaning it has to us. The shape of the sign playing the role it does makes it easier to understand. Consider what such a sign means to a dog and you can get an idea of what we take for granted. Indeed, in general, if you point to an object at some distance, we more or less take for granted that you are not asking the recipient to look at the end of the finger, which is what a dog would think (unless trained otherwise). If you've ever taught a child making use of a picture book, you recognize that it takes more than just pointing to the picture to determine what the pointing refers to. Reference is the thing that signs have that make it different than what it means to an ordinary animal not having a language capacity.

Note that it is the sign maker or the designer of the sign that is trying to get us to follow its instruction. Once learned, of course, following the instruction allows it to be considered a communication. One of the important things I learned during my career in computers, engineering-wise, is the significance of the distinction between and interface and a protocol. I'll get to this at the end, as I believe it is important.


Gregorygregg1 wrote:Whatever the mechanism or "protocol is used to interpret it, if the desired behavior is forthcoming, the message has been sent, received, and acknowledged by the behavior.


Well, acknowledge might be communicated by the desired behavior, as I've mentioned in the sign example, but ordinarily, acknowledgements merely indicate that the signal or message has been received. (Again, it's the protocol that delivers the understanding of the message.)

Whether it is a bee, termite, ant or human, the result is cooperative effort, and that requires communication of information. It is not pertinent to the exchange of information whether that takes the form of chemical trails, the visual cues of a dancing bee, or speech.[/quote]

Ok. Take this interpretation if you care to. I gave you mine. I have no interest in getting into a debate about it.

[quote="Gregorygregg1 wrote:
I agree, Language is a step away from communication. It resembles a cash economy because it involves the exchange of tokens. I give you a few words which are abstract tokens representing what is in my mind, and you produce an approximation of what is in my head in your own. I have bought communication with these tokens.


I'm afraid you've lost me here and because of our differing interpretations of the term 'communication', I'm probably differing with your on language as well. I had in mind going into some detail about protocols, but I'm losing interest quickly, so I'm going to stop.

James
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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 7th, 2013, 2:48 am 

GG -

In the sense you are using communication you could say that my chair is communicating with the ground through the mediums of gravity and friction. I can quite happily understand this point.

It is probably better to recognise the family of words that include interaction, communication and language. Particles interact in a different manner than humans do. It seems to be that each word concept lies broadly across different segments of this spectrum. Some are more thickly spread on human interactions than for inanimate objects.

The diverse use of symbolism is most probably what distinguishes a language from a mere interaction of bodies.
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Re: What came first?

Postby webplodder on November 7th, 2013, 6:12 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:Given that we are highly visually influenced creatures would it be crazy to suggest that we first developed a more complex form of sign language prior to verbal communication?

What are the theories on this idea, be it for us or our ancestors?

Thanks


I don't think it's unreasonable to assume creatures that led to the development of more advanced forms had the ability to communicate in non-verbal terms. I would include facial expressions in this definition as well as general body language forms and probably other gestures. Hominids are highly social animals, therefore, it would only be natural for social communication to be a high priority in their range of behaviour. No one can prove this, of course, and all this is really just speculation but speculation based on what is known about hominids. It would have been through the development of larger brains that led to the development of language and even now, when people communicate verbally, they generally use body language as well, for example in gesticulating or frowning or using eye contact, so in this respect you might say sign language is still alive and well. I bet you can think of many gestures that people use every day, can't you?
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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 7th, 2013, 7:39 am 

There are a couple of key factors. It is not the question of brain development influencing auditory or visual language, language itself is something that our brains do whether you can see or hear it makes absolutely no difference to our innate ability for language.

How these language systems developed and through which medium (sight, sound, touch, heat, movement, rhythm, etc.) is what interests me.

I guess it is hard to see how we'll ever know. Did homo erectus/ergaster possess a language centre at all like ours? If so did they possess the vocal ability and control to make complex use of a verbal language or where they more or less in the same mold as chimps in this respect?

Memesis is also something to consider in the development of our species as well as our ability to reason using pure visual imagery. Cognitive/neuro archaeology has been mentioned, and that seems to be the best approach at this point in time.

It would probably be useful to break down our use of words. Interaction, communication and language. For me language is something that is used to communicate a "narrative", meaning connecting events and objects with ideas and feelings in a complex cognitive manner between two, or more, individuals. A bee dance communicates information but it is hardly a complex cognitive communication, but it is more than a mere interaction between rain and a hillside.

Complex interactions that manipulate the laws of physics are communications.

Complex communication that has a specific neural system is a language if it is used between two, or more individuals.

This is vaguely how I view "language", but I am happy to use the term loosely in some instances. As far as I can tell though we are the only creatures on this planet that have what can be termed "language". I am not saying that other creatures do not have means of communicating I am just saying they do not appear to have developed the same abilities as we have.

Like my friend said the other week ... "I am not saying humans are better than animals, but ... we are!"
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Re: What came first?

Postby webplodder on November 7th, 2013, 10:33 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:There are a couple of key factors. It is not the question of brain development influencing auditory or visual language, language itself is something that our brains do whether you can see or hear it makes absolutely no difference to our innate ability for language.

How these language systems developed and through which medium (sight, sound, touch, heat, movement, rhythm, etc.) is what interests me.

I guess it is hard to see how we'll ever know. Did homo erectus/ergaster possess a language centre at all like ours? If so did they possess the vocal ability and control to make complex use of a verbal language or where they more or less in the same mold as chimps in this respect?

Memesis is also something to consider in the development of our species as well as our ability to reason using pure visual imagery. Cognitive/neuro archaeology has been mentioned, and that seems to be the best approach at this point in time.

It would probably be useful to break down our use of words. Interaction, communication and language. For me language is something that is used to communicate a "narrative", meaning connecting events and objects with ideas and feelings in a complex cognitive manner between two, or more, individuals. A bee dance communicates information but it is hardly a complex cognitive communication, but it is more than a mere interaction between rain and a hillside.

Complex interactions that manipulate the laws of physics are communications.

Complex communication that has a specific neural system is a language if it is used between two, or more individuals.

This is vaguely how I view "language", but I am happy to use the term loosely in some instances. As far as I can tell though we are the only creatures on this planet that have what can be termed "language". I am not saying that other creatures do not have means of communicating I am just saying they do not appear to have developed the same abilities as we have.

Like my friend said the other week ... "I am not saying humans are better than animals, but ... we are!"



Language, in the context of human language, represent concepts, I would have thought. Of course, there are all sorts of concepts, from, say, the concept of "red", to the concept of "curved space." Presumably, then, language assigns different labels to different types and complexities of concepts. "Love" describes a strong feeling but this is more a physiological/psychological experience than an intellectual one so it seems language has to be extremely flexible in assigning meaning to the various experiences people undergo. If we look at the various languages in use today we can see that some of them seem to be more 'romantic', even more 'sensual', than other languages. Just look at the difference between German and Italian, for example. For this reason I would guess that language reflects a degree of social conventions within its structure. Congnitive/neural archeology does seem promising where it is possible to make a mould of what the original brain tissues might have been like based on fossil skulls. Used with laser precision mapping more is being discovered about our distant ancestors.
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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 7th, 2013, 11:40 am 

Congnitive/neural archeology does seem promising where it is possible to make a mould of what the original brain tissues might have been like based on fossil skulls. Used with laser precision mapping more is being discovered about our distant ancestors.


Cognitive archaeology is more about investigating sites and items left over. There is very little that the inside of a skull can tell us about the functioning of a brain sadly.

Essentially, like you say, words are labels of a symbolic nature. We have one word for snow and Inuits have many more. To us snow is pretty much just snow. What you say about Italian and German is very relevant and Orwell wrote a great essaying touching on this subject "Politics and the English Language" (highly recommended). The emotional aspect of word concepts is something I believe is too easily overlooked or dismissed. Even a simple word such as "a" gives us a feeling of anticipation (no "Rocky Horror" pun intended!). There is even evidence to suggest that reasoning itself is flawed without emotion. Thinking without emotion is probably not possible but I am sure many people would disagree with that one which I understand, it is just something I think may still be worth considering even though there is evidence against it.
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Re: What came first?

Postby webplodder on November 8th, 2013, 6:20 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:
Congnitive/neural archeology does seem promising where it is possible to make a mould of what the original brain tissues might have been like based on fossil skulls. Used with laser precision mapping more is being discovered about our distant ancestors.


Cognitive archaeology is more about investigating sites and items left over. There is very little that the inside of a skull can tell us about the functioning of a brain sadly.



True, however, I was referring to endocasts which can be made as a representation of what an ancient brain might have looked like. Such modelling, while not revealing brain structures directly, can at least give an indication of the brain sizes of areas near to the surface, some of which are involved in the production of speech.
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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 8th, 2013, 8:29 am 

True, however, I was referring to endocasts which can be made as a representation of what an ancient brain might have looked like. Such modelling, while not revealing brain structures directly, can at least give an indication of the brain sizes of areas near to the surface, some of which are involved in the production of speech.


My knowledge is limited on this to say the least. From looking into this briefly it does seem archaeologists are overly obsessed with "speech" being a direct precursor to language. Given that it has been shown that sound is not a prerequisite for language in modern humans who are congenitally deaf, and from what Forest has pointed out to me about the kids in Nicaragua creating a language from scratch.

I don't know how much an endocast of our ancestors skull can tell us until I spend more time studying this subject. It does seem worth an look though so I'll get around to it. Needles to say many internal brain structures have a immense influence on our capacities. I do not see how an endocast can really tell us more than physical artifacts when it comes to cognitive processes that would seem to go hand in hand with the development of language.
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Re: What came first?

Postby webplodder on November 8th, 2013, 9:50 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:
True, however, I was referring to endocasts which can be made as a representation of what an ancient brain might have looked like. Such modelling, while not revealing brain structures directly, can at least give an indication of the brain sizes of areas near to the surface, some of which are involved in the production of speech.


My knowledge is limited on this to say the least. From looking into this briefly it does seem archaeologists are overly obsessed with "speech" being a direct precursor to language. Given that it has been shown that sound is not a prerequisite for language in modern humans who are congenitally deaf, and from what Forest has pointed out to me about the kids in Nicaragua creating a language from scratch.

I don't know how much an endocast of our ancestors skull can tell us until I spend more time studying this subject. It does seem worth an look though so I'll get around to it. Needles to say many internal brain structures have a immense influence on our capacities. I do not see how an endocast can really tell us more than physical artifacts when it comes to cognitive processes that would seem to go hand in hand with the development of language.


My knowledge is also very limited in this subject area but I suppose an endocast is just one strand of evidence that is used to try to piece together the characteristics of primitive human beings. Of course, science is an ongoing process and it will be interesting to see what kinds of evidence will be unearthed in the future to contribute better to our understanding in this field.
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Re: What came first?

Postby JohnD on November 9th, 2013, 3:51 am 

I agree with GregoryGreg that physical and vocal traits are equally inclusive of a language and most probably developed at the same time. What we know of as words started off as vocalizations that after a while became recognisable as a language.
If you have a look at how words were written even a couple of hundred years ago, let alone the verbose use of language today you start to realise how vocalisations made to try to identify certain objects over time became the vocabulary of today.
As far as physical gestures, this is still practiced in many languages along side the spoken word. It is also detrimental when emphasis and emotion are to be considered as well as the words themselves.
I think that the reason why there isn't much scientific information available is because outside of our ability to refine the use of the verbal language, language is there with all creatures. Just that we don't understand it.
Even when you consider there being no formal language either spoken or physical, if you're desires of communicating you will find a way of communicating and getting your message across. Just ask anyone who has visited a country where they have no idea of the local language.
In conclusion words are no more than identifying sounds that are used to communicate our desires to others and sometimes physical movements or "body language" will suffice or even enhance our language.
And it isn't a matter of survival that language is what it is as some words may well have been first uttered by a person under extreme duress just prior to their demise.
Edit* It may well be that the refinement to our vocal chords is a secondary benefit attributable to some other changes that needed to be made as we changed our habitat and diet.
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Re: What came first?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 9th, 2013, 5:37 am 

It is a difficult subject for a number of reasons. When looking at endocasts, all you are really seeing is the inside of the skull which can give you some indication of the brain's surface. But not the full 3D architecture. And at best, that gives you some idea about some of the capacity but not really much detail about how or if that potential capacity was used.

Of course, comparison with other critters also gives you some idea about forms and kinds of communication that exists beyond our species. But you really do have to pay close attention to careful definitions of language vs. communication or you end up arguing that your cats are capable of discussing Voltaire. You also have to keep in mind that all critters have been on earth as long as we have and no doubt evolved since we had a common ancestor so whether chimps had language a million or two years ago would remain in question.

Actually identifying language in the past, then is harder than one might think if you want to go beyond idle speculation. But this is indeed a complex topic handled in cognitive archaeology where we do look for unambiguous evidence of communication between people. But it can be done to at least some degree.
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Re: What came first?

Postby JohnD on November 9th, 2013, 7:04 am 

No I wouldn't expect a cat to have read Voltaire.
The problem always arises when we look at the animal kingdom and say that they don't have a language because they can't read or write in human terms. That's ridiculous and on a par with our European ancestors declaring American Indians, pacific islanders and Australian Aboriginals as being savages no better than animals because they couldn't read or write the English language.
So then are we to assume that we should expect that if we go to another planet that everyone there will be able to speak the Queen's English?
Of course animals have limitations, some of them have hoofs and most don't have the biological benefits within their skeletal structure to be able to round off sounds to be able to make a similar language to ours. That doesn't mean they don't communicate and language is communication. Maybe a thought needs to be given that the subject isn't belittled by undue comments.
The difference between us is that you listen to animals and you hear sounds while I hear a language, a communication. There have been many enough who have studied the likes of birds and recorded that they have different sounds for different events. To me this doesn't just signify a communication but a series of communications constituting a language.
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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 9th, 2013, 7:31 am 

JohnD -

There are areas of the brain that are associated with language (as in what I am using now). Similar structures in other animals are not of the same size, as good as absent. Wernicke's and Broca's areas are prevalent in the use of language.

There is a big difference between alerting someone to danger and explaining past present and future events. Even with the speech areas I have mentioned you still need the ability to reason. Reasons connection to language is another topic altogether.

Other things worth considering are the "social" areas of the brain in relation to language, emotion and our ability to reason. Language, whether externalized or internalized, does seem to play a major role in how ours brain work. Self awareness would also seem to be key in the development of a language. Thinking is an internal communication and becomes more when there is another entity to interact with. The emergence of language, I would think, is similar to the emergence of consciousness (whatever that means?).
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Re: What came first?

Postby JohnD on November 9th, 2013, 8:56 pm 

BadgerJelly wrote:JohnD -

There are areas of the brain that are associated with language (as in what I am using now). Similar structures in other animals are not of the same size, as good as absent. Wernicke's and Broca's areas are prevalent in the use of language.
I haven't studied anatomy and certainly not a brain specialist so I'll take your word as gospel.

BadgerJelly wrote:There is a big difference between alerting someone to danger and explaining past present and future events. Even with the speech areas I have mentioned you still need the ability to reason. Reasons connection to language is another topic altogether.

http://www.birdchannel.com/bird-news/bi ... gious.aspx
This is the latest research that I have found and I know there are others. This one concerns yawning and it is surmised that it is a social activity.

BadgerJelly wrote:Other things worth considering are the "social" areas of the brain in relation to language, emotion and our ability to reason. Language, whether externalized or internalized, does seem to play a major role in how ours brain work. Self awareness would also seem to be key in the development of a language. Thinking is an internal communication and becomes more when there is another entity to interact with. The emergence of language, I would think, is similar to the emergence of consciousness (whatever that means?).

The problem here is the consideration that self awareness is somehow a human trait.
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Re: What came first?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 9th, 2013, 9:02 pm 

The problem here is the consideration that self awareness is somehow a human trait.


Consideration the of the concept of awareness would be more accurate. In other words consideration of words that are related to cognition.
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Re: What came first?

Postby Gregorygregg1 on November 10th, 2013, 1:28 am 

BadgerJelly wrote:GG -

In the sense you are using communication you could say that my chair is communicating with the ground through the mediums of gravity and friction. I can quite happily understand this point.


Close, but not exactly. Communication requires consciousness. I may provide the consciousness for the communication between myself and my medium. I cannot, for instance, create a four foot long clay finger of small diameter because the clay tells me I cannot. When I don't listen to the medium I waste a lot of time and clay. This does not mean I don't try it once or twice before I pay attention. Then the conversation becomes, how will the medium permit me to achieve the desired effect?

The diverse use of symbolism is most probably what distinguishes a language from a mere interaction of bodies.


The conversation I describe is like a thought process where the clay is the language. Saying what you mean requires that you know the words with which to say it, or be able to invent new words in such a way that they may still be understood. Intention, transmission, comprehension = communication. Clay, words, paint, music are media for transmission of intent. A medium for transmission of intent is a language. At least that's my working hypothesis.
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Re: What came first?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 10th, 2013, 3:18 am 

JohnD wrote:The problem always arises when we look at the animal kingdom and say that they don't have a language because they can't read or write in human terms


Well of course I wasn't making any reference to the ability to read or write nor was I referring in any way to any specific language. However, all humans do have the capacity to learn how to communicate in multiple mediums and I think most, if not all, have at least a capacity to learn more than one language. Furthermore, human languages have the capacity to communicate complex ideas including things like hypothetical situations that may not exist in the real world (e.g., a purple elephant), alternate futures and historical trajectories, etc. While I suppose many would like to think they can converse with their pets, we really have no reason to believe that any animal can communicate in the same ways that we take for granted. Your cat may well be able to communicate to you that it is hungry or wants to play. It may even appear to be superior to all it and you own. But I seriously doubt it will ever acquire enough vocabulary to communicate to you why this is the best of all possible worlds. (BTW, there are a couple of references to Candide in there. Explain them to your cat and see what it thinks.)
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Re: What came first?

Postby webplodder on November 10th, 2013, 1:09 pm 

I remember seeing a tv documentary about Neanderthals, and while it was made clear that Neanderthals were very adapted to their environment and successfully overcame the many challenges of survival, one thing they did lack was the ability to imagine novel situations. So, as you point out, something like a pink elephant (mammoth?) would not seem funny to them since pink elephants or mammoths did not actually exist in their environment. It was this lack of imagination, which Homo Sapiens used to their own advantage, that may have contributed to the demise of the Neanderthsls. We have the ability to try out novel situations in our mind and try them out and also the ability to forsee possible forthcoming dangers and deal with them. I guess this was one reason the Neanderthals could not compete with Homo Sapiens - lack of foresight. Presumably, too, Homo Sapiens had the advantage of being able to communicate concepts through language to other members of their tribe thereby spreading ideas very quickly.
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Re: What came first?

Postby Gregorygregg1 on November 11th, 2013, 2:49 am 

webplodder wrote:I remember seeing a tv documentary about Neanderthals, and while it was made clear that Neanderthals were very adapted to their environment and successfully overcame the many challenges of survival, one thing they did lack was the ability to imagine novel situations. So, as you point out, something like a pink elephant (mammoth?) would not seem funny to them since pink elephants or mammoths did not actually exist in their environment. It was this lack of imagination, which Homo Sapiens used to their own advantage, that may have contributed to the demise of the Neanderthsls. We have the ability to try out novel situations in our mind and try them out and also the ability to forsee possible forthcoming dangers and deal with them. I guess this was one reason the Neanderthals could not compete with Homo Sapiens - lack of foresight. Presumably, too, Homo Sapiens had the advantage of being able to communicate concepts through language to other members of their tribe thereby spreading ideas very quickly.


There are a number of theories about the Neandrathalls and their relationship to modern humans. My best guess is that the concept of beauty was different, more flexible then. Is it not possible we carry the dominant genes of two subspecies.
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Re: What came first?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 11th, 2013, 4:15 am 

Yes, based on their suites of artifacts, it appears that Neanderthals were highly specialised to specific kinds of environments and their artifacts changed very little across time and space. When it comes to how they thought, this is what we have to go on. In contrast, anatomically modern Homo sapiens show greater diversity in artifacts and they appear less specialized and therefore more capable of adapting to different kinds of environments. It is also with amHs that we start to see artifacts that are less easily explained in terms of pure economic functionality and therefore MIGHT reflect more symbolic behaviour. Arguments have also been made that the structure of the hyoid bone in the throat may not have been suitable for vocalized speech. But that is speculative.

There is evidence that a small amount of Neanderthal DNA has survived in modern populations. At least some Neanderthal physical traits may be seen in Welsh rugby players and some northeastern European beet farmers.
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Re: What came first?

Postby Gregorygregg1 on November 11th, 2013, 9:48 am 

Forest_Dump wrote:There is evidence that a small amount of Neanderthal DNA has survived in modern populations. At least some Neanderthal physical traits may be seen in Welsh rugby players and some northeastern European beet farmers.


I would hazard the genes are more widely disseminated. My brother for instance, who shares my heavy brow, has hands like sides of beef. My avatar is a portrait of him. The Neanderthal is strong in this one, as Yoda would say.
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