05 Nov Evolution of Language
Evolution of Language
Did humans become smart by necessity? With the forces of nature combined to rig the test for “survival of the fittest”, as human evolution from lower forms, how did these ill-equipped creatures, with their weak jaws and thin hides, make the natural-selection cut? It sounds like it was a perilous journey. One theory holds that because early humans needed to rely on one another to survive, they formed protective bands and hunting parties that could collectively beat the odds when individual prospects were slim. The sociality of these bands necessitated both a method of communication and a willingness to cooperate. This process of contriving, and the contrivances themselves, must have created a synergy that led to more developed brains and higher intelligence.
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Another theory that switches the chicken and the egg suggests that advances in communication techniques led the more gracile hominid creatures to not only get by, but to eventually surpass other species and… well, you know the rest of the story. Perhaps simple advances in communication techniques among the evolving creatures led to stronger survival characteristics, including more developed brains, and the cycle continued from there. Of course, there is also the propagation of the species.
Are we still evolving?
Communications skills are still a key element of survival. Whether the catalyst of pre-modern language evolution was the need to survive or some inherent ability to survive is of little consequence. What is clear is that communication skills were one of the key elements in survival, hence one of our most important cognitive abilities. Cognitive abilities, as I have discussed before, are multi-dimensional, including the dimensions of perception, context, self, time, space and motivation. Communication and Language are also multi-dimensional, including the dimensions of culture, maturity, intelligence, exformation, subtext, syntax, diction and others. Did these multiple cognitive and linguistics evolve separately, and are some evolving (or devolving) today more rapidly than others? I will not attempt to answer this, but leave it as a thought provoking rhetorical question.
Today, with the interaction of other cultures, and the rapid spread of viral social content language continues to evolve. Dr. C. George Boeree states that “One surprising aspect of language change is the influence of fashion and even of individual idiosyncracies.” (Boeree 2003). A hiphop song, a funny video, a political candidate’s jibe, a nice turn of a phrase in a popular book or a great tweet can change our language, making it more rich and better able to express the realities in an evolving sociosphere. Even the term “viral”, which has become universally understood in English and many other languages, is new to the current generation, and expresses something that arose fresh in the age of instant global communication.
- use human languages to store conceptual representations of knowledge,
- keep up with evolution using contributions from a vast array of people and sources to learn,
- be able to incorporate new knowledge into the context of the existing knowledge ontology rapidly and effectively.
In the subject index of the bibliography you will find applicable references under the following topics:
Here are some of my favorite eclectic references in the area of language and cybernetics:
Language and the Mind Chomsky, 1968
On Alternation, Transformation, Realization and Stratification Lamb, 1964
Language and Perception Miller, 1976
Conceptual Dependency: A Theory of Natural Language Understanding Schank, 1972
Conceptual Structures Sowa, 1984
Language as a Cognitive Process Winograd, 1983
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