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The origins of language. Animals and human language. The development of writing


Enviado por   •  2 de Mayo de 2012  •  2.760 Palabras (12 Páginas)  •  514 Visitas

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The origins of language. Animals and human language. The development of writing.

THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE

First of all, we are going to talk about the origins of language. We don´t really know when it happened and we have nothing but pure speculations about that. We don´t have direct evidences about how we started to speak 100000 years ago.

Related to religion, there are some theories about the origins of language (the language has a divine origin), due to experiments with very young children without access to human language. But all this theories seem to be unlikely.

From a different point of view, the origins can be based on the concept of natural sounds. This kind of theories support the idea that the language comes from sounds such as pain, cries and many other sounds like buzz, boom and scratch (among many others). One interesting theory is the “yo-he-ho” theory, based on the idea that humans developed the language making physical efforts, groaning, cursing, etc. The problem is that all this theories can´t explain the origins of the sounds, so we should think about a physical point of view.

If we look at the human structure (I mean, our body) we can see that we have suffered so many changes through the years (for example, comparing with the Neanderthal man) up to the present, and we can guess that they could be able to “speak” (but obviously not in the same way as we do), probably making sounds. But if we have a look at the human teeth, larynx, tongue, pharynx and mouth, we can see that we have lots of differences with other species (for example other primates). For instance, the mouth’s size, the larynx’s position (comparing to a monkey, they are not able to produce speech sounds, but instead of that they have an advantage without choking by a piece of food), etc.

We should take into account the most important controller: the human brain. The human brain organises all these physical parts for sound production. The human brain is also different than other species, bigger and lateralized. The left hemisphere is responsible (in most of people) of control motor movements involved in acts like speaking or object manipulation, which have a very important role in the development of the speaking brain. The languages (all of them) have to combine and organize sounds or signs in specific arrangements, and our brain has probably developed a specific part in order to make this arrangements.

But, how do we develop tools? It can be easy. When we produce (we or our forefathers) a specific sound/noise to name an object, and we combine it with another specific noise, we can build a message. For instance, if we combine “beer” with “good” we have a fixed message: beer good. Maybe it´s too elementary, but can give us an idea about how did the humans created the first languages thousands of years ago. And nowadays, we have the ability of making hundreds of different developed messages with everyday actions.

When we are born, our brain and all those organs we mentioned before (larynx, tongue, etc.) don´t have the same competence as the adult ones. At birth, child´s brain is a quarter of the final weight and the larynx is similar to the apes, in order to breathe and drink at the same time. Afterwards, our larynx descends, the brain develops, we start walking and talking as adult humans. But, apart from the physical evidences we should think about an innate capacity for language. For example, children who are born without the ability of speech (deaf children) are able to develop signs language. What does it mean? It´s probably that human have had a genetic mutation through the pass of the years and we are genetically predisposed to have this capacity for language.

This change would have been gradually or suddenly and quickly, we don´t know it. But the investigations about the origins of human language turn to a genetic point of view, instead of fossil evidences.

ANIMALS AND HUMAN LANGUAGE

Nowadays, we know a lot of stories about animals (especially gorillas and chimpanzees) which are/were able to communicate with humans. But communicate with human doesn’t mean that they are able to use the language properly. It´s well known that all animals are capable of communicating with members of their own species. Can we consider they’re using language? Well, if we want to answer this question, we should have a look at some experiments…

We have 2 types of signals:

- Communicative signals: they have a communicative intent.

- Informative signals: you sent this signals unintentionally.

Scientist made an experiment with bees. They wanted to know how they communicate between them. They put some food on the top of a radio and placed the bee´s hive on the bottom of the tower. Then, they showed the bees where the food was. Afterwards, they were sent back to the hive, with the mission of communicate the rest of the bees how to get the food. The bees couldn’t find the “free” food, because despite they have a communicate system, they are not able to create “new” messages. Animals cannot make up new words.

All of their signals are fixed, and because of that we can think that they cannot manipulate them. If we compare a human with a monkey, for example, in a danger situation a human is quite capable of creating a new danger signal, but the monkey probably not. Monkey´s have a repertoire and they can´t change it (probably an innate repertoire).

The language in human is not inherited. We inherit many other things (the colour of the eyes, the size of the nose, etc.) through our parents, but not the language. We learn the language through a social context. It has been described as cultural transmission.

We have, of course, a kind of predisposition to acquire language. As we said before, animals have an innate repertoire of signals and they tend to produce it instinctively. But in our case, being human, we have not the same condition as animals of producing instinctive signals.

Human language has a duality. On one hand, we can produce individual sounds, for instance “a”, “p” or “s” (among many others). But none of these sounds have a specific meaning by themselves. We should think about another level that gives these sounds a proper meaning by combining them creating words with meaning.

An interesting idea is the fact that animals can follow human’s orders. But, do they really understand what we say? Probably not. It´s unlikely they can understand human language, but it´s a well known

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