glossogenesis (was: Indo-European question)
|From:||Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>|
|Date:||Monday, June 18, 2001, 18:13|
At 9:23 pm +0000 17/6/01, Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote:
>> Date: Sun, 17 Jun 2001 12:46:54 -0400
>> From: Andreas Johansson <and_yo@...>
>> In most articles etc that I've read on the genesis of human speech th author
>> seems to assume that "Proto-World" was isolating, and did at the earliest
>> stage lack any means for expressing number, case, tense etc - it'd've
>> consisted only of stems strung together to form rough sentences, along the
>> lines of "I hunt fox"="I hunt/hunted/will hunt fox(es)".
"Me Tarzan - you Jane."
I think not. Just popular modern mythology. Moderns like to think that
they are so wise and all preceeding generations are less so; the further
back, the more stupid - therefore primitive man couldn't possibly handle
The same mentality, of course, looks upon 'isolating' languages, such as
Chinese, as being 'more primitive' than 'developed' western inlexional
languages. People of this mentallity convenient fail to realize that, in
fact, modern Chinese is arguably less isolating thn modern English - no
The same mentality also assumes that all native American languages exactly
reflect the 'primitive' speech the "injuns" spoke in the old
black-and-white westerns, etc.
>>If this is correct,
>> inflection really is something "later that must be explained", but I don't
>> know whether this view is commonly accepted among linguists.
As far as I'm aware, no serious linguist entertains it.
>Well, if human speech means language spoken by people with the same
>innate skills as we have --- i.e., modern humans --- experience tells
>us that it takes exactly one generation to get to a creole; and those
>are in all respects modern stable languages, with ways of marking
>person, number, tense, aspect, near/far distinction, and so on.
>Any group of modern human children is perfectly capable of taking any
>lexical material at hand and creating those features, without having
>experience of another language that has them.
Exactly. The genesis of human speech is a mystery that, probably without
time travel, we'll not unravel.
>If people want to talk about how some earlier homo not-quite-sapiens
>spoke, the field is wide open. To my mind it's utterly uninteresting,
>though. Just define that you're talking about people who were unable
>to use this or that feature, and conclude that they didn't use it.
Yep - people tend to go around in vicious circles. I've come across
statements about neanderthal man that go like: NM couldn't have had
developed speech since they didn't live in highly developed social units;
they didn't live in highly developed social units because they hadn't
developed proper speech. NM couldn't make this or that sound because the
bone structure of the jaw wouldn't allow it; we know the bone structure of
NM had this or that feature because they couldn't make certain sounds -
As far as I can see, it's rather like changing fashions: at one period the
general opinion is that NM (and other 'homo not-quite-sapiens') couldn't
speak like real homo sapiens, then everyone's holding to the opinion that
they could, and so it goes on.
A mind which thinks at its own expense
will always interfere with language.
[J.G. Hamann 1760]