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When did language first evolve?


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Of particular importance is the advent of natural languages with the expressive power of context-free grammars. That is, symbol ordering had importance and was used to extract a tree-structure of represented meaning at various levels of abstraction, rather than just an arbitrarily ordered sequence of symbols.

 

I believe this arose in the early ancestors of mankind, after they had speciated from the Neanderthals.

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Framing the question correctly is important for proper discussion. Leaving parts open for interpretation results in people chiming in on something that may or may not relate to either the OP nor to any of the other posts. What iNow is most likely referring to is the fact that animals are also capable of communication.

I assume that the question may be centered around human language abilities. In that case one could ask for instnace what elements are necessary and when did they first arise, even if they had functions in different contexts.

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The short answer is no one knows; What your meaning is speaking (speech), not necessarily languages. Most animals and early man were and are capable of making noises, many times a certain noise having a certain meaning. What I like to call reasoning, the ability to figure out cause, for instance and opposed to instinct, probably happened after or during mans evolution from food gatherers and the different forms of dependency, farming, mining, communes and the like, 100+K years ago, with very limited actual vocabularies. However the reason we can speak is...

 

The Hyoid Bone, only found in Humans and required for speech was known to be in Neanderthals aNeanderthals and our Homo Sapiens are kown to have co-existed and possable for a long period of time, finally dieing off around 30k years ago. Since Neanderthals existed in all of Europe dating at least that 100k years, your probably thinking in terms of written history or recorded and or recovered artifacts.[/Quote]

http://www.livescience.com/history/080204-hs-hyoid-bone.html

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I suspect that hominids stood upright in order to use their hands for sign language. before sign language there was probably a crude form of mime.

 

I think the freeing of hands from locomotion brought many benefits, but the immediate one is using tools. I would also suspect that early hominids had some sort of gesture language, but I doubt this was the primary driver in freeing the hands from locomotion.

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I think the freeing of hands from locomotion brought many benefits, but the immediate one is using tools. I would also suspect that early hominids had some sort of gesture language, but I doubt this was the primary driver in freeing the hands from locomotion.

if you are smart enough to make a tool then why not just make a tool-belt?

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I believe that language is as simple as non-verbal communication - and furthermore that it existed the moment our ancestors became self-aware. There's a real grey area there because creatures that are (supposedly) not self-aware have their own forms of, presumably, instinct-based non-verbal and verbal communication, but it doesn't qualify as language until the creature is self-aware and able to understand the communication within a context. Following some kind of communication, a creature my be driven by instinct to act upon it, or may make a conscious choice on how to proceed by deciding which instinctual need must be fulfilled.

 

When you are able to look into another creature's eyes and you understand their wants and needs, and vice versa, then there is the foundation of language being built.

 

Perhaps the real question is: what is the exact definition of a language? Surely it must be a form of communication that is universally used within a group. Any thoughts..?

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Perhaps the real question is: what is the exact definition of a language?

 

There's a rather profound difference when talking about language as used elsewhere in the animal kingdom and language as used by man.

 

Man uses tree-structured (i.e. context-free) language. This allows us to express multiple different levels of abstraction. We can talk about a particular symbol in increasing detail.

 

Whereas other members of the animal kingdom may have a symbol of some sort for "danger", going into increasing detail becomes increasingly less possible with the way they communicate.

 

Can they express "distant danger"? How far? Can they express "danger we can avoid if we move in this direction now?" Not really.

 

Even in chimpanzees while they can accumulate a fairly substantial vocabulary word ordering, and the tree structures particular orderings of symbols can express eludes them.

 

Conversing in context-free grammars seems to be a uniquely human trait.

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That's an excellent viewpoint; I hadn't considered it that way before. What do you think would be the original incentive for our ancestors to elaborate on basic communications? How do you teach somebody the meaning of such an elaboration without the use of a language at your disposal?

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