Language: evolution or design?

Humans are both very like and very different from other species we find on Earth. At the sub-cellular and biochemical level, the similarities, the almost universality of the DNA code and its property of self-duplication and storage of genetic information is breathtaking. On the other hand, no other species has succeeded in the scope and breadth of it’s colonization of this planet.  Much of the “success” in growing a population that now exceeds seven billion individuals can be attributed to our being a social species.  Sociability and its evolutionary roots have been well studied. However there does seem to be something missing. The rapid runaway expansion of human culture and the extraordinary flowering of human art, which might be attributed in turn to the literal expansion of the human brain seem to require further explanation.

The human brain is a very power-hungry organ. This paper states an adult brain consumes 25% of resting metabolism, over double that of our primate cousins and vastly more than the 3 -5 % of non-primate mammals. The paper goes on to describe how the acceleration in brain size seems to occur with the emergence of Homo erectus starting around 1.6 million years ago. It suggests some causes such as climate change, changes in diet and foraging behaviour, increased cooperation as possible factors. But did Homo erectus really need to be so brainy?

I thank News at Uncommon descent blog for introducing me to this paper on the possibility that complex language evolved much earlier than some previously thought. The authors state in conclusion:

The antiquity of modern language and speech capacities, going back to at least the last common ancestor of Neandertals, Denisovans and modern humans some half a million years ago, raises new and interesting questions concerning the nature of the linguistic design space, the relationship between biological and cultural evolution, and the time frame for the emergence of modern human traits, and language in particular.

The paper does not seem to consider why brain size increase,  a prerequisite for the much later flowering of human art and culture and the other evolutionary attributes (the changes to the hyoid bone for example) seem to occur so rapidly and so long before the dawn of human civilization which we might put at around 10,000 or so years ago.

Step forward, Geoffrey Miller, psychologist and author of a book published in 2000, The Mating Mind: How Sexual choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature (There’s a detailed précis of the book here.) Miller’s hypothesis, that human braininess evolution was driven at least in part by sexual selection, if true, explains both rapid increase in brain size and the early development of language.

He points out one difficulty in his hypothesis; that of a lack of pronounced sexual dimorphism in humans which would be expected if just women (or just men?) were doing the choosing. He then proposes

…the idea of sexual ornaments as costly, reliable indicators of fitness, and argues that our most distinctive mental traits evolved through mutual mate choice as fitness-indicators.

[I’m quoting Miller from his précis linked above]

In the last four chapters of his book, Miller suggests  the following uniquely human mental traits that appear to have evolved under mate choice: art, morality, language, and creativity.

For art, Miller suggests the sexual element could be artistic and artisanal skill as a fitness indicator saying (in his précis):

This beauty-as-virtuosity theory also helps make sense of the hand axe, which can be viewed as a sexually-selected feature of hominid extended phenotypes for over 1.5 million years.

Morality, according to Miller is hard to explain in evolutionary terms. In chapter 9, ‘Virtues of Good Breeding’ he sets out the difficulty:

Psychologists sometimes fail to understand how circular it is to ‘explain’ moral behavior in terms of moral preferences. Of course, one can always say that we are kind because we choose to be kind, or it feels good to be kind, or we have brain circuits that reward us with endorphins when we are kind. Such responses beg the question of why those moral preferences, moral emotions, and moral brain circuits evolved to be standard parts of human nature.

He goes on to reject reciprocal altruism as sufficient to explain the roots of morality. He mentions a study on Arabian Babblers that behave apparently altruistically, but closer observation shows that what is happening is fitness displays driven by sexual selection. There’s lots more in the chapter that is persuasive polemic, building on the idea that human altruism has an evolutionary origin in fitness displays. He even manages to suggest giving to charity is rooted in this behavior.

It’s in chapter 10 that language becomes woven into Miller’s argument. The title ‘Cyrano and Scheherazade’ sets the tone. Miller should be pleased to see the paper News linked to. When he wrote his book, whether Neandertal’s spoke a language was still speculation. Miller again argues for sexual selection with language skills, singing,  poetry and declamation as weapons to be deployed in courtship and seduction. Near the end of the chapter he asserts:

Language evolved as much to display our fitness as communicate useful information. To many language researchers and philosophers, this is a scandalous idea. They regard altruistic communication as the norm, from which our self-serving fantasies might sometimes deviate. But to biologists, fitness advertisement is the norm, and language is an exceptional form of it.

I hope some  have been interested enough to get this far and I look forward to any comments.

49 thoughts on “Language: evolution or design?”

  1. GlenDavidson

    I’ve always tended to think that fire use and language went together, since it seems a fairly dangerous and complicated matter. To be sure, apes with lighters can do fire–but how safe would the ape kids be around fire without the all-important “no,” and how well would they be at starting fires without lighters or matches, finding fire, or maintaining fire?

    Especially in colder areas, living without fire very long during long parts of the year would be doubtful, and it seems that both designating the social responsibility to one or more at a time, as well as those individuals understanding fire issues sufficiently, would be difficult without language.

    Of course I’ve thought language had existed for quite a long time.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that language use evolved within the last 100,000 years, which suggests an implausibly brief period for the emergence of such a complex adaptation.

    Language evolution raises interesting questions, in turn, regarding the evolution of theory of mind and of cooperation. Andrew Whiten described the attainment of “deep social mind” and the group level cooperation and coordination that it enabled as a key adaptation in hominid evolution. This raises thorny questions regarding group selection – recalling the Wynn-Edwards debacle, but also the arguments of of Sober and Wilson, etc.

    Michael Tomasello makes an interesting (I think compelling) argument that human language evolution was not founded upon prehuman primate vocalization, but rather on the emergence of gesture, pointing, comprehension of eye gaze, the capacity to sustain joint attention and ultimately theory of mind (see his “The Origins of Human Communication.”) It is my conjecture that theory of mind ultimately became cooperative, as our ancestors not only became adept at “reading” one another, but also at advertising states of belief, desire and intention to one another, enabling new kinds of cooperation and coordination (as well as new levels of deception).

    I have Miller’s book (although read it about 10 years ago, so it’s a little fuzzy), which throws sexual selection into the mix as the capacity for mind reading (in the sense of theory of mind) becomes further elaborated as a way of assessing mate quality, and everything from the deployment of humor to musical talent to verbal articulation become windows into the cognitive quality (or perhaps suitability for companionship) of potential mates.

    Add Mithen’s “Prehistory of the Mind” (IIRC) for an interesting take on the synergy that may have emerged when relatively independent facets of evolving human intelligence became wired such that the cognitive products of one became available as inputs to another.

    Much of this has to remain speculative, although research into the cognitive development of human toddlers provides a vantage from which to triangulate upon some of these questions.

    And what does “design theory” have to say about these question? Zip, nada, just as it is silent/useless vis all of the great questions of human origins (big tent, and all).

  3. GlenDavidson

    Alan Fox: You weren’t influenced by this film, were you?

    ETA Recent paper on earliest habitual fire use in Europe

    ETA How Cooking Made Us Human

    I haven’t seen the movie, but thought it odd that anyone would see Neandertal culture, including fire, and suppose that they might not use language.

    The cooking hypothesis is interesting, but I’ve always thought it was chicken and egg question. You’re probably not going to cook food usefully without being reasonably intelligent, maybe even lingual. So it might play a role in intelligence evolution, but could it be an early factor? I kind of doubt it, but maybe it was important in H. erectus evolution, or so, and later.

    Glen Davidson

  4. petrushka

    I’ve always assumed that big brains were sexually selected. A Red Queen sort of thing. Most critters get along fine without them.

  5. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    Cummins advocated an arm races motivated by “social chess” as a major driver:

    “The struggle for survival in chimpanzee societies is best characterized as a struggle between dominance and the outwitting of dominance, between recognizing your opponent’s intentions while hiding your own. The evolution of mind emerges from this scene as a strategic arms race in which the weaponry is ever-increasing mental capacity to represent and manipulate internal representations of the minds of others.”

  6. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Reciprocating Bill: Michael Tomasello

    I’m tending to find myself in Chomsky’s camp. I think that the development of the brain and the development of language ratcheted each other. Using myself as a model, I get the impression that my ability to think and reason – to be human – is tied into the way I think linguistically for the most part. Although it’s not one thing or another – visualisation – mental drawing of diagrams (assisted by paper and pencil) seems to be crucial for problem solving..

    The sexual selection dimension gives us another or additional explanation for stuff that does not seem to have an immediate survival benefit; activities that are costly in terms of time, effort and often scarce or rare resources. I’m thinking body decoration, the making of jewelry, cave painting, making artefacts of “religious” significance, story-telling, maybe the whole idea of a religion.

    All this precedes by thousands of years the cultural explosion following the development of pastoralism, agriculture, plant and animal husbandry.

  7. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    GlenDavidson: The cooking hypothesis is interesting, but I’ve always thought it was chicken and egg question.

    Heh!

    You’re probably not going to cook food usefully without being reasonably intelligent, maybe even lingual. So it might play a role in intelligence evolution, but could it be an early factor? I kind of doubt it, but maybe it was important in H. erectus evolution, or so, and later.

    I was surprised, on reading about the earliest controlled fire use, how fragmentary and sparse the evidence is. But the evidence to date suggests brain expansion had largely occurred prior to habitual use of fire. Ancient Africa was not so cold as Northern Europe around the Ice Age.

  8. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Reciprocating Bill,

    Sure Homo sapiens can be a warlike little critter but it does not explain the huge rôle artistic ability and appreciation, drama, theatre etc. played and continues to play in all human societies. But I suspect it was this plus that rather than this or that.

  9. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    petrushka:
    The crown of creation. Encephalized peacock feathers.

    There is some sexual dimorphism between the sexes in humans. Body shape can be sexy!

  10. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    I’ll be incommunicado for a couple of days or so so please don’t feel ignored. 🙂 I’ll try and keep up but 4G hasn’t penetrated too far into the Languedoc yet.

  11. Neil Rickert

    Alan Fox: I’m tending to find myself in Chomsky’s camp.

    By contrast, I think Chomsky has it mostly wrong.

    I think that the development of the brain and the development of language ratcheted each other.

    I agree with that, though I don’t think it particularly Chomskyan.

    Using myself as a model, I get the impression that my ability to think and reason – to be human – is tied into the way I think linguistically for the most part.

    I’d say that most of my thinking is non-linguistic, though it is the use of language that gives me the background knowledge that allows this non-linguistic thinking.

    The sexual selection dimension …

    I tend to be a skeptic here. I don’t doubt that there was some sexual selection. But I think that cannot be the main explanation.

  12. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    Alan:

    I’m tending to find myself in Chomsky’s camp. I think that the development of the brain and the development of language ratcheted each other.

    I think Neil is right – such ratcheting (and I think you’re right about that) is not a very Chomskyan notion.

    There were severe contradictions in Chomsky’s position (how long before I leave “Chompsky” unedited?). He asserted both a complex innate underlying basis for language while denying that this innate language capability could have evolved gradually. Essentially, he asserted that language is irreducibly complex and could not be attained in steps. He also argued for human essentialism:

    “In studying the evolution of mind, we cannot guess to what extent there are physically possible alternatives to, say, transformational generative grammar, for an organism meeting certain other physical conditions characteristic of humans. Conceivably, there are none—or very few—in which case talk about the evolution of the language capacity is beside the point.…When we study human language, we are approaching what some might call the “human essence,” the distinctive qualities of mind that are, so far as we know, unique to man and that are inseparable from any critical phase of human existence, personal or social.” (From Language and Mind in 1972.)

    Dereck Bickerton struggled to put Chomsky’s notions onto a more evolutionary footing, although initially argued that early hominids “blundered into language” in a single saltation to syntactically complex language from an unstructured protolanguage. He later modified his views and proposed that syntax originated more gradually as an exaptation of the social-cognitive representations required to sustain cooperation by means of reciprocal altruism.

    Vis sexual dimorphism, the trend has been toward a marked reduction of sexual dimorphism, at least with respect to body size and length of canines, beginning approximately 1.9 million years ago (with homo erectus). Because marked dimorphism of these features typically reflects selection pressures exerted by inter-male mating competition, its relatively sudden reduction probably signifies the onset of a suite of mating adaptations that included stable pair-bonds, hidden estrous, and the reduction of inter-male competition for mating opportunities with females, suggesting the onset of a shift to more cooperative forms of social organization.

  13. Gregory

    What alternative theories are there to language ‘evolution’ on offer? I’m not talking about ‘design,’ at least not in the IDT sense. It has been a frequent problem in some fields; people think there are no other options (Karl Popper warned about this) so they don’t try to think of or explore any. That is until some maverick comes along…

    Here’s a historical linguist who calls ‘evolution’ a disanalogy for ‘linguistic change’ (‘change’ being, of course, the master category, not ‘evolution’ – one can have ‘change’ without calling it ‘evolution’ but not ‘evolution’ without ‘change’): https://www.academia.edu/805573/2006._Synchrony_diachrony_and_evolution_

    The case (for language ‘evolution’) at the very least doesn’t seem to be as clear-cut as some people think and indeed, as someone here said, it is surely a highly speculative (deep historical) area of study.

  14. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    Gregory:

    What alternative theories are there to language ‘evolution’ on offer?

    My take is that several levels of change (biological evolution and cultural innovation) at different timescales are required to understand human language, biological evolution largely accompanying/accounting for the origination of human language abilities (which entailed myriad cortical/cognitive and physiological adaptations) and cultural innovation (and drift) accounting for the huge diversity it in grammars and lexicons observed across cultures once the biological foundations were laid. There are weak analogies between what happens at each of these levels.

  15. Neil Rickert

    Gregory: The case (for language ‘evolution’) at the very least doesn’t seem to be as clear-cut as some people think and indeed, as someone here said, it is surely a highly speculative (deep historical) area of study.

    There is some ambiguity in the expression “language evolution”. It could be about the evolution of the capacity to use language, or it could be about the evolution of the language itself.

    The discussion in this thread is mostly about the first of those. The link that you provided is mostly about the second.

    As to the second, I have no doubt that languages evolve, though perhaps not in a way that fits Gregory’s private meaning of “evolution.” It is also well known that languages can arise spontaneously.

    And WTF is up with that site “academia.edu”. I follow Gregory’s link, and it asks me to download the pdf file. If I try to do that, it tells me that I must first sign up as a member or academia.edu.

  16. Gregory

    RB wrote: “biological evolution and cultural innovation”

    Yes, I’d agree with that. Likewise, distinguishing linguistic origins from linguistic change (process) is helpful. “Weak analogies between…levels” sounds fine to me also.

    Academia.edu is a site for academics, where they/we can network with other scholars, post papers, presentations, book overviews, CV, etc. ResearchGate is similar. (Combined they have about 14 million members worldwide.) If you’re not registered, you can only (sometimes) browse, not download.

    Here’s another option that cites Andersen’s paper: http://manchestersalfordplc.webs.com/Walkden%20FiL%20abstract.pdf

  17. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Reciprocating Bill: I think Neil is right – such ratcheting (and I think you’re right about that) is not a very Chomskyan notion.

    There were severe contradictions in Chomsky’s position (how long before I leave “Chompsky” unedited?). He asserted both a complex innate underlying basis for language while denying that this innate language capability could have evolved gradually. Essentially, he asserted that language is irreducibly complex and could not be attained in steps.

    Quote-miner’s confession. I only mentioned Chomsky as Miller made a favourable reference. I see now that Chomsky’s camp has moved over time, might I even say evolved.

  18. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Reciprocating Bill: Vis sexual dimorphism, the trend has been toward a marked reduction of sexual dimorphism, at least with respect to body size and length of canines, beginning approximately 1.9 million years ago (with homo erectus).

    I’m quite curious about this, Bill. Do you have a reference?

    Because marked dimorphism of these features typically reflects selection pressures exerted by inter-male mating competition, its relatively sudden reduction probably signifies the onset of a suite of mating adaptations that included stable pair-bonds, hidden estrous, and the reduction of inter-male competition for mating opportunities with females, suggesting the onset of a shift to more cooperative forms of social organization.

    What I’m really wondering about is how to explain art, of which language, I’m suggesting, the excess of language over what seems necessary for survival, is a part.

  19. Reciprocating BillReciprocating Bill

    I’m quite curious about this, Bill. Do you have a reference?

    See:

    Wrangham, R. W. (2001). Out of the Pan, into the fire: How our ancestor’s evolution depended on what they ate. In F. de Waal (Ed.), Tree of origin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  20. Robert Byers

    All this stuff is just plain wrong. Its all uninformed guessing.
    There is no evidence brain size is a origin for human intelligence.
    Its just presumed because our brains are bigger then dumb animals.
    In fact whales etc have big brains but surely are not the smartest animals.
    Our intelligence comes from our soul. Thats the thinking being.
    Language is not a big deal. its a trivial memory and use of sounds to express thoughts.
    Its very few sounds and these are used in endless combinations. This means language is entirely a thing of memory.
    thats why different languages all do the same equal service in expressing our thoughts.
    Therefore it was the intelligent thinking human that came first. Language in no way could evolve as it means our thinking ability would just be evolving and so undercut the elaborate memorization of sounds called language.
    Evolutionists get this all wrong because they exalt language in its cleverness.
    in fact its just a few sounds used by the memory. THEN evolutionists underrate the importance of this memory agreement.
    Language could only exist once people were as smart as we are now. Then it could only exist in great cooperation for agreeing what sounds mean.
    Language could never evolve even amongst small groups of people.
    this is not that difficult to figure out.

  21. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Robert Byers:
    All this stuff is just plain wrong. Its all uninformed guessing. There is no evidence brain size is a origin for human intelligence.Its just presumed because our brains are bigger then dumb animals.In fact whales etc have big brains but surely are not the smartest animals.

    It’s a bit more nuanced than that, Robert. One way of making comparisons is to use “encephalization quotient” as a measure. Also the power consumption of the human brain is pretty astonishing.

    Our intelligence comes from our soul. Thats the thinking being. Language is not a big deal. its a trivial memory and use of sounds to express thoughts. Its very few sounds and these are used in endless combinations. This means language is entirely a thing of memory. thats why different languages all do the same equal service in expressing our thoughts.

    So the soul does the thinking? Hmm? You are aware that a huge body of work, such as studies on brain lesions, EMR on brain activity etc indicate that the brain has something to do with it.

    Therefore it was the intelligent thinking human that came first. Language in no way could evolve as it means our thinking ability would just be evolving and so undercut the elaborate memorization of sounds called language.

    When you do your thinking, Robert, do you use language, or do save that till you articulate your thoughts? How do you formulate your thoughts prior to articulating them?

    Evolutionists get this all wrong because they exalt language in its cleverness. in fact its just a few sounds used by the memory. THEN evolutionists underrate the importance of this memory agreement.

    Do you have an example of “evolutionists” doing this?

    Language could only exist once people were as smart as we are now. Then it could only exist in great cooperation for agreeing what sounds mean.
    Language could never evolve even amongst small groups of people.

    You only need two people to have a conversation. Admittedly, they would need to agree or develop a common vocabulary. I can’t imagine how that could happen. Maybe by associating a sound with an object. You could point at yourself and say “Robert”.

    this is not that difficult to figure out.

    I’m glad we have you on the case. 🙂

  22. Robert Byers

    Alan Fox
    Our brain using more power would be that way because its a bigger brain. YET its not evidence the brain is the place of intelligence or thinking. Other reasons are possible for the brain drain of power. I think the brain is just a big memory machine connecting our thoughts to the body and the body to the body. No need to conclude the brain does any thinking by itself.

    EMR/brain activity only shows the brain in a state of activity. its not evidence thinking is going on there. once again the memory could account for all action.

    I note myself and others first have their thoughts and then language tries to articulate those thoughts.
    Our thinking being trapped by incompetent grunts is another unlikely scenario by evolutionists on this matter.
    We always had language to express our thoughts.
    Language must be agreed too./ It couldn’t carelessly evolve. its as deliberate a thing as can be.
    Again I see it as primitive sounds but in a excellent memory organization mutually agreed too.
    Evolutionist do exalt language beyond its simplicity of sounds.yet this is why languages are easily different and learnt by kids right away.
    Its just segregated combinations of sounds. The sounds are simple and the memorization is only a little more impressive.
    Thus at Bebal it was a easy thing for God to confuse the languages.

  23. OMagain

    Robert Byers: Thus at Bebal it was a easy thing for God to confuse the languages.

    When was that, by the way? And how long did it take for our current languages to develop after that event?

  24. Robert Byers

    OMagain: When was that, by the way? And how long did it take for our current languages to develop after that event?

    That was about 2300BC. I think the bible says there was 70 languages at the change.
    so from that came the more segregation. Within groups of people came the changes as it all had to be agreed to in order to be memorized.
    In fact language evolving from common great families like indo european is very unlikely. Yes one sees a original language, at babel, but its unlikely mere small groups would of organized the great language differences.
    Also there should fantastic numbers of indo-euro languages if it came from small groups splitting off.
    It was instant and then minor changes from splitting small groups.

  25. RichardthughesRichardthughes

    Robert, it appears to me that although you start a post “All this stuff is just plain wrong. Its all uninformed guessing.” that is exactly what you do. You offer no support other than your own musings.

  26. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Richardthughes:
    Robert, it appears to me that although you start a post “All this stuff is just plain wrong. Its all uninformed guessing.” that is exactly what you do. You offer no support other than your own musings.

    To be fair, Rich, Robert does give his source: viz

    I think the bible says there was 70 languages at the change.

    🙂

  27. Robert Byers

    Richardthughes:
    Robert, it appears to me that although you start a post “All this stuff is just plain wrong. Its all uninformed guessing.” that is exactly what you do. You offer no support other than your own musings.

    Its the same origin as any discovery or figuring out things. Its informed and thoughtful investigation. its based on biblical boundaries and is just common sense and brings things to a more simple equation of how it works.
    one should simplify in science as things are not so complicated as one might think.
    its not guessing however.

  28. RichardthughesRichardthughes

    Science looks for parsimonious answers

    As for “common sense” I think all the worlds biodiversity coming from one, localized boat in 4000 years, isn’t.

  29. OMagain

    Robert Byers: That was about 2300BC. I think the bible says there was 70 languages at the change.

    The most extensive catalog of the world’s languages, generally taken to be as authoritative as any, is that of Ethnologue (published by SIL International), whose detailed classified list as of 2009 included 6,909 distinct languages.

    http://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/how-many-languages-are-there-world

    So, Robert, how many languages do we have to invent a year to get from 1 to ~7000 in your timeframe?

  30. Robert Byers

    OMagain: The most extensive catalog of the world’s languages, generally taken to be as authoritative as any, is that of Ethnologue (published by SIL International), whose detailed classified list as of 2009 included 6,909 distinct languages.

    http://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/how-many-languages-are-there-world

    So, Robert, how many languages do we have to invent a year to get from 1 to ~7000 in your timeframe?

    Languages can change quickly. in fact the more segregated tribes in many areas easily change from the original language.
    Its just about segregation of a people group.

    I see no problem for all languages coming from the original 70.
    Anyways this thread was about language in connection with brain/smartness developness.
    My big point was that language is actually a simple use of sounds that it only complex because of the use of the memory. I think memory is fantastic in people and not understood as such.
    So language is only a tool for our thoughts.
    Our complex thoughts came first and language just spells it out.
    There was no evolving grunting in hand with evolving smartness. tHis is impossible as language could only be organized in corporation with others.
    The great need to memorize demanding clear agreement.
    Of coarse Adam had full language with eve. There probably is a deep equation for why particular sounds were picked instantly for language however that language ended at babel.

  31. petrushka

    Robert Byers: That was about 2300BC. I think the bible says there was 70 languages at the change.

    Genesis 11

    11:1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
    11:2 And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.
    11:3 And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter.
    11:4 And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.
    11:5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.
    11:6 And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.
    11:7 Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

  32. OMagain

    Robert Byers: I see no problem for all languages coming from the original 70.

    So do the math. Show your working. For every 100 years from the starting point estimate how many languages there were at that point and how many people were speaking that language.
    You don’t see a problem so explain the reason why what I see as a problem is not actually a problem after all.

  33. Robert Byers

    OMagain: So do the math. Show your working. For every 100 years from the starting point estimate how many languages there were at that point and how many people were speaking that language.
    You don’t see a problem so explain the reason why what I see as a problem is not actually a problem after all.

    There is no problem because languafes can change istant and quick with a separated population. Its not about years. Likewise languages can stay unchanged over centuries.
    In the Canadian west explorers were surprised some Indian languages stay the same between separated population groups who nevdr saw each other for three years or so and other Indians who lived just valleys away from each other all spoke many different languages.
    Its about segregation and not time. In small groups languages could change in 5 years and bang 40 languages in 20 years from a single common language.

  34. OMagain

    Robert,

    There is no problem because languafes can change istant and quick with a separated population. Its not about years.

    So do the math! How many populations, how many separation events over that time period?

    Likewise languages can stay unchanged over centuries.

    There must be a reason why some change “instant and quick” and some don’t. What is that reason?

    In the Canadian west explorers were surprised some Indian languages stay the same between separated population groups who nevdr saw each other for three years or so and other Indians who lived just valleys away from each other all spoke many different languages.

    You are not helping your argument with this. You *need* languages to only change fast to meet your goal.

    Its about segregation and not time. In small groups languages could change in 5 years and bang 40 languages in 20 years from a single common language.

    So, if you trace the evolution of language back (and you can as it’s written down!) then does it form the pattern you’d expect if your claim of “Babel” is true?

    Have you done this research? If not, how can you in good conscience make such claims? If you have, well, what were the results?

  35. Robert Byers

    OMagain,

    it does work fine and the thinking on this is based on biblical boundaries and some knowledge and hypothesis.
    Its investigation but6 simply no using a high standard of investigation like science bUT itys preety good still. Certainly better then evolution and company which use no science but claim too.

  36. OMagain

    Robert Byers: it does work fine and the thinking on this is based on biblical boundaries and some knowledge and hypothesis.

    So, no numbers then? What does work fine? That you can simply say “it’s in the bible”? Yes, that does “work” fine but you’ll have to aim very low indeed for that to be true.

    Its investigation but6 simply no using a high standard of investigation like science bUT itys preety good still.

    Yes, I can see how “good” it is from the last few comments of yours.

    Certainly better then evolution and company which use no science but claim too.

    Will you be submitting your claims in this thread for peer review then? Will you publish a paper eventually?

  37. GralgrathorGralgrathor

    My favourite model for language/brain development has always been the one that says that brains and language evolved together, in order to be able to gossip. Gossiping here is defined as the exchanging of information about the social status of members of the group. Given increasing social complexity of bands of hominids, such information would have been a valuable resource in ones quest to claim social status, and thus increase the chances of finding a willing mate.

    Of course it wouldn’t initially have been expressed in such terms. I imagine information about social status at one time would have taken the form of ‘iiieeeek, iiieeek!’. But that’s okay. We all had to start somewhere.

  38. petrushka

    Many critters communicate verbally. My cat — not the brightest of his kind — has evolved from one large, screechy miaow, to a wide range of chirps and mews, depending on circumstances.

    What humans have is syntax and the ability to imagine past and future. I suspect that language is the appendage with which we manipulate the past and future.

  39. petrushka

    Robert Byers: Language must be agreed too./ It couldn’t carelessly evolve. its as deliberate a thing as can be.

    Mutualism and symbiosis evolve. Language continues to evolve without formal agreements.

  40. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    petrushka: My cat — not the brightest of his kind — has evolved from one large, screechy miaow, to a wide range of chirps and mews, depending on circumstances.

    Our current cat turned up as a stray half-grown kitten a couple of years ago. She is much more attached to my wife than me. In two years she has sat on my wife’s lap maybe twice. My wife has been on away for a couple of weeks (there’s a clue as to how I’m finding more-than-normal comment time) and the cat has noticed me. I have now learned catese for “feed me, NOW! I want to sit there, let me out, let me in” (she has a cat-door) and the very rare but appreciated “Oh, hello”.

  41. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    petrushka: Mutualism and symbiosis evolve. Language continues to evolve without formal agreements

    Language development is completely anarchic, much to the chagrin of the Académie Française and grammarians everywhere.

  42. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Gralgrathor: Given increasing social complexity of bands of hominids, such information would have been a valuable resource in ones quest to claim social status, and thus increase the chances of finding a willing mate.*

    [*my emphasis]

    Exactly. It’s sex, pure and simple! 😉

    OK sex is rarely pure and never simple!

  43. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    Stumbled across this paper where I read:

    Two of the more significant, yet elusive, questions about H. erectus concern the levels of sexual dimorphism within the lineage and the capacity for language. Sexual dimorphism, the physical differences between males and females, is an important source of variation within species, and in primates can be an indicator of reproductive strategy and group dynamics. Sexual dimorphism, given its role in intraspecific variation, can also be a confounding factor in proper taxonomic identification. The large amount of size variation observed within H. erectus, taken primarily from fragmentary fossil remains, makes it difficult to estimate average levels of dimorphism. The H. erectus fossil record provides clear evidence of a large range of skeletal size variation, at least equivalent to that observed in living human populations, but it does not provide conclusive evidence that males were systematically larger than females to a greater extent than they are today. If H. erectus did have more sexual dimorphism than H. sapiens, we would infer that male competition for mates was more dependent on body size than it is today.

    It’s sexual selection, I tells ya!

  44. Alan FoxAlan Fox Post author

    petrushka: Language continues to evolve without formal agreements.

    Just looked in at Uncommon Descent (like the makeover, Barry) and I see Barb and Mung are still arguing over what the word σταυρός means. I still encounter bemused Brits who seem affronted by the overlap of meanings between French and English words. One friend was annoyed when a promised “train à vapeur” turned up with a diesel engine. The explanation was that the word train in French refers to the carriages – not the engine.

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