What was the fundamental cause of spoken language?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by river, Oct 18, 2015.

  1. river

    Was it pointing to something or the grasping of something and then the need to describe the thing?
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  3. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    IMO, the first meaningful verbal sounds were developed by comunication between mother and young offspring for obvious reasons.

    Remarkably, even today, a mother can recognize the sound of her baby's cry among the noise and cries of other babies, just as a lost calf may cry for its mother and the mother recognizes the cry of her calf even in a large herd.

    For adults, verbal communication probably began with the development of hierarchical orders in times of need. A combination of gestures and commanding grunts assigning specific duties.

    But what most people forget is that human languages also consist of grunts and clicks and tonality, some languages are just more melodic than others.

    But there are also other languages, such as communication through pheromones, or displays of physical abilities or colors for indicating health and vigor. Humans use all three.

    I cannot find a special difference between human languages and other animal languages. Our sophistication of language lies in our diversity and population dispersion, which presented new challenges and skills. This forced the naming of individual items, rather than "over there is food", or "heads up, predator sighted.".

    However it is pretty well accepted that whales and dolphins have very sophisticated languages and regularly exchange information about observation of their environment over long distances.
    But their grunts and clicks are meaningless to us, because we are not aquatic animals.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
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  5. AlexG Like nailing Jello to a tree Valued Senior Member

    The need to yell 'Look out for that tiger'.
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The languages of the various species of cetaceans are meaningless to us because we haven't been able to do with them what we would do with any group of humans who speak a language we can't understand: sit down and point to a thing and ask what it's called; perform an action and ask what it's called; point to a color and ask what it's called, etc.

    Cetaceans don't have hands and fingers, so it's difficult to establish that kind of rapport. However, by using electronics, we can project our own speech into the water at a satisfactory volume, so we can at least let them know that we, too, have language.

    Still, it's not clear that our languages might share a significant vocabulary of referents. We'd probably have to start with the names of various species of edible fish.
    The cetaceans are the only non-human animals with a communication system complex enough to earn the label "language."

    Several species of parrots have been taught a small vocabulary of words, but they can't produce true sentences with grammar--merely three-word phrases like "red metal box."

    Herding dogs have learned to understand as many as two hundred words, but only individually, and of course they can't reproduce the sounds.
    It's assumed that our Paleolithic ancestors developed sign language. But the problem with sign language is that it's very difficult to perform complex, coordinated tasks with just one hand, as you're using the other one to communicate.

    Anthropologists and archeologists see evidence of an explosion in complex, coordinated tasks around 70,000 years ago. It's reasonable to speculate that this marks the dawn of spoken language--but "speculate" means just what it says.

    Nonetheless, a mere ten thousand years later, a group of Africans (of the San or "Bushman" tribe, which still exists) successfully migrated out of Africa for the first time and began establishing human populations on the other continents.

    Could anyone have performed this astounding feat without spoken language?

    One species of chimpanzee and one species of gorilla have been successfully taught American Sign Language and can sign and understand complete sentences with a vocabulary of more than one thousand words. One female even taught it to her own baby.

    Other domesticated animals, such as horses, can learn to understand a few dozen words, but, again, they have no way to speak them back to us.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
  8. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    My pick is, humans began developing spoken language during our early hunter-gatherer history, probably well before migrations out of Africa.

    I think this could be true because we hunted in groups, and speech would have been important, or useful, to coordinate the hunt.
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Within recent history, people studying the African hunters have found them to use bird calls and other sounds that imitate nature, because speech would give away their location and allow the game to escape.
  10. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    There's a problem with that, which is that it wouldn't work very well in open areas like savannah. Didn't Cro-Magnon hunt by herding large animals into bottlenecks such as gullies, and killing them with rocks hurled from above? There must have been (there still are) plenty of hunting scenarios where the game is aware of the hunters, and this must then form a part of the overall strategy.

    I think language evolved along with the need to cooperate and coordinate activities, not just hunting. Then there's the "problem" of using language, not just spoken language but say gesturing, to lie to other people, so we must also have developed an ability to detect honesty.

    During some hunting scenarios, presumably we split into different separated groups and coordinated our activities over some distance. Gesturing wouldn't be any use, but vocalising would.

    And, I'm aware that it's all theory, there isn't any surviving evidence to go on.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Yes. These are forest hunters. I suppose it would work in a savannah with particularly tall grass.
    The bow and arrow were invented independently in several regions at different times. And of course the spear and the sling go way back before the emergence of our species.
    And this is why modern humans and our ancestral species invented projectile weapons that can be launched from a distance and travel faster than the prey.

    The bow and arrow are strictly an invention of Homo sapiens, since examination of Neanderthal physiology tells us that their musculature would not have been able to operate the equipment effectively. But they (and earlier ancestral species) were able to throw spears and rocks.
    We still haven't got that.

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    Some African hunters still use bird calls to communicate.
  12. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    I find this a most fascinating area of inquiry. If we could "understand" the language of whales, meaning, actually learning the compound structure and wavelengths used by whales to convey information about their environment.
    Such information can be physically confirmed and artificially imitated by our instruments.
    example: Whales, because of their enormous size and momentum require (and have) the ability to probe the structure of the environment long before it can be visually observed. Especially handy in the total darkness when at great depths. They simply use sonar to form an image of what lies ahead, so that corrective or evasive actions can be taken long before the obstacle is actually visible.
    Seems to me that this is the type of information would be a primary (evolutionary) need for communal knowledge, ewspecially in the large whale species.
    If we could find a correlation of a specific "song" at the sub-sonic wave levels at which whales operate, to a specific action this could be then tested and once a commonality is established, we could begin to build a vocabulary.
    Our species have seperated so long ago and lived incompatible environments, we are practically alien to each other. But we are mammals and whales breathe with lungs instead of gills, so we have air in common.

    What would happen if we build submarine air stations (fed by surface air)? Would certain whales /dolphins learn use them, instead of having to "surface"?

    What do we learn from our aquatic parks? Are there serious experiment

    It is proposed that whales speak in stacked information (such as compound chords on a piano}, whereas humans speak
  13. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    fox p2?
    in wales?

    We humans make spontaneous soothing sounds for babies and animals which seems to calm them.
    Perhaps this led to other humans thinking that we were indeed speaking a language---------led to mimicry----led to sounds becoming associated with actions or things?
  14. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    I contend that communication across distances between groups of hunters or other kinds of group activity is the main reason language evolved.

    Sounds like "ko", "ka", "ku" and "ki" survive better across distances than other kinds we make, for instance so we should expect these to survive as well today. It's why Maori has so many of them in its vocabulary, it's the language of a people whose history is navigating (in groups of boats) across the Pacific.

    Here's a clue, use the syllable I didn't include: "ke", use this to make two-syllable words, and they're still words in Maori; "kikiki" is a word that means something if you make the first syllable longer than the others.

    Pauses in between Maori words are the only clue the British language experts used to define words, and it explains why there are so many meanings for words in the dictionaries they brought to the party. But really, the language is more subtle than that.
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2015
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Actually more research has been performed and more information has been gathered by studying the sounds made by dolphins in their own habitat. It has been determined that (at least within some species, obviously they haven't all been studied) each individual has a name that all of his pod-mates recognize and use to call him.

    It also seems that the pod itself has an identifying call which all the members "sing" (to use an anthropomorphic word) when traveling in large groups. Since each pod has a different call, it's reasonable to assume that it has a meaning, but with the minimal information we have, we obviously cannot guess what that meaning is. It might be a boast (we're the best hunters), or a warning (get out of our way or we'll kick you out of our hunting territory), or simply a beat-keeping rhythm to keep everyone in synch (I don't know but I've been told/Orca ass is mighty cold/Sound off one-two/Sound off three-four).

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    I have seen very little research into the communication of the baleen whales... as opposed to the toothed whales, which include the dolphins and porpoises as well as the sperm whale. The orca or "killer whale" is simply the largest species of dolphin, not a baleen whale.
    No one traveled further across the sea than the Hawaiians--whose language is also a member of the Polynesian language family, although in a different branch from Maori.

    In order to shout at each other over the intense noise of the sea, the phonetics of Hawaiian have been stripped down to minimize misunderstanding. Hawaiian has (as far as I can tell) the smallest number of phonemes of any language on earth: the five cardinal vowels (A E I O U) and only eight consonants (H K L M N P W and the glottal stop).

    Words that are recognizable between other Polynesian languages are more difficult to identify in Hawaiian, such as Samoan "salofa" ("greeting") vs. Hawaiian "aloha," and the name of the island "Tahiti" vs. "Kahiki" in Hawaiian.
  16. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    IMO, this is were the concept of the mirror neural network originates. It begins to function immediately after birth.
    As soon as information is received by one of the senses, the other senses also receive related information (environment). The remarkable thing is that these experiences maintain a correlation within the brain (MRI), which later can be recalled and help in recognizing patterns, common denominators, and dynamics.

    I find this a fascinating proposition which, if true, would explain a lot about human societal interactions.
  17. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    Maori has the five vowels in short and long form, all the Hawaiian consonants except L but has the T consonant, and the "nga" glottal sound too, but not "nge", "ngi" "ngo" or "ngu".
    The Maori word "aroha" means love, or happiness, or being happy about something, etc.
    How is this known, the provenance of Hawaiians? I'm aware that Maori have a legendary homeland whose location is unsure, but it was unlikely to have been Australia.

    Does the separate language branch address this at all?
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2015
  18. Write4U Valued Senior Member

    I used to live in the Netherlands (a very small country) and could not understand Friesian.
  19. sculptor Valued Senior Member

    If memory serves: (almost 40 years)

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    Old English is closely related to Frisian.....(think Beowulf)
    North Frisian and west Frisian are almost 2 different languages?
  20. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    So I should have made a better effort, the Maori alphabet contains the five vowels, A, E, I, O, U, and the consonants, H, K, M, N, P, R, T, W, plus the glottal "nga", and depending on location, W is pronounced WH by some tribes. There was a bit of a kafuffle about how the name Wanganui should be pronounced or spelt on maps, so now it's Whanganui, in keeping with local pronunciation by Maori.

    Note also that the concept of an alphabet is a European one.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Linguistic analysis, as well as archeology, tells us that the Austronesian peoples originated in what is now southeastern Asia, and then spread to the islands. The direction of the spread was not entirely southward, as the aboriginal population of Taiwan (Formosa) were Austronesians, and in fact this may have been their earliest colony not on the mainland.

    Archeology also tells us that the islands most distant from the homeland were the last to be populated. Hawaii and Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island) were not colonized until less than 2,000 years ago.
  22. arfa brane call me arf Valued Senior Member

    I'm interested in the fact that Maori didn't have, or abandoned pottery craft. They didn't bring any stone building either, but they did make pretty good stone tools and weapons like spear points. No bows or arrows though, or blowpipes. And of course, no metallurgy.

    And, New Zealand (Aotearoa) was colonised about 700 years ago, in several waves, making it the last Polynesian migration to a Pacific island chain, as I understand it.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015
  23. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Primative man used the much easier to construct Atlatl long before, in most cases, he could make a bow. At least they were in use 15,000 BC. A skilled user can throw with good (hit the animal) accuracy twice as far as with spear alone. See this video:
    or others a search will turn up. This first man-made weapon is now being revieved in contests.

    Late in this video, see in slow motion film one put a "bird" into the air and others try to kill it.

    As a group of atlatl hunters needed to synchronize their throws, they had some word for "now" the leader could say.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2015

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