Tree of Language

Which came first, word OR verse?
Socio-cultural memes OR verbal language?

Comment by Morgan Matthew on January 6, 2013 at 11:51pm

Featured.

Comment by archaeopteryx on January 7, 2013 at 12:02am

@Rick, RE: "Not until humans had to become writers only about 5,000 years ago is there any physical evidence of verbal communication." - I'm not clear where you get that, as the Sumerians had an advanced civilization thriving in Mesopotamia, 8,000 years ago with a vibrant language, both written and spoken.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on January 7, 2013 at 2:37am

An abstract reality like language exists only in the brains of its users -- words are made of air and vanish without an empirical trace.

Language vanishes but the language organ (the brain) occasionally leaves interesting traces. Some animal brains can learn to link sounds with objects or causes with effects. Human brains learn to use symbolic thought to represent and associate things that have no physical correlation, such as the future or a monster in the dark: synthetic logic. Language is just the outward expression of this ability.

That is, it's improbable humans learned to speak symbolically before humans learned to think symbolically, and probable that the ability to do each, in turn, improved the ability to do the other. If we study the evolution of the human brain and the modern anatomical structures and functions of the brain, we can get some idea of when humans (or even pre-humans) first began to speak, based on the fossil record which shows when these structures appeared and developed. Granted, it's imprecise, but it's empirical. The science of human evolutionary genetics may one day be able to improve the estimate considerably.

Comment by प्रमोद शाही on January 7, 2013 at 9:35am

“All other species on this planet are gene machines only. They don’t imitate at all well; we alone are gene machines and meme machines as well.” — Susan Blackmore

Comment by archaeopteryx on January 7, 2013 at 9:55am

GM - I read recently (source not recalled) that early man's departure from the Eden of his African rain forest, onto the Veldt was the cause on our transformation from bi-/quadra-pedal animals, to strictly bipedal, causing evolutionary changes to the skeletal structure, forcing the head to align more directly with the spine, which in turn resulted in head and neck changes that made development of the larynx possible. Wish I had the source, but didn't know I'd need it.

Comment by Emy on January 7, 2013 at 8:38pm

Very nice thanks for sharing.

Comment by Unseen on January 7, 2013 at 9:56pm

I've amazed people on several occasions with facts such that "Engish is a germanic language" or that "English can be traced back to Indian Sanskrit and shares an amazing amount of similarities." In the case of the latter, I can cite examples such as that our our English words "right," and "rite" can both be traced back to the Sanskrit word "rita" which has a few related meanings such as law, order, propriety, and truth. 

But Heather is right, too. English is a whore among languages. Unlike French, for example, which prizes linguistic purity and decries the intrusion of outside words, English gladly adopts both words and concepts from other languages. This gives English by far the largest vocabulary of any language and has made it pretty much the lingua franca or universal language.

Comment by Kir Komrik on January 8, 2013 at 5:33pm

Hey  प्रमोद शाही,

Have you heard of an earlier, hypothesized language that preceded PIE? It was put forth by some academics in Russia. Thanks for the diagram.

- kk

Comment by Bram Meuris on March 22, 2013 at 11:34am

Unseen, you might want to read this article (among others) before making such general claims :) http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2010/06/counting_words

Comment by archaeopteryx on March 22, 2013 at 2:53pm

Un1 - I wouldn't consider English a "whore," although some of my best friends are - never mind - as I would a "mongrel."

And I've no doubt you've amazed people, who tend to say, "It walks, it talks, it's almost human!"

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