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Re: What is language?

From:Andreas Johansson <andjo@...>
Date:Thursday, January 5, 2006, 14:06
Quoting Nik Taylor <yonjuuni@...>:

> Andreas Johansson wrote: > > Making individual sounds is the easy part - the tricky one is controling > > breathing so precisely you can chop an outbreath into a long sequence of > > phonemes. Modern humans have a bunch of extra nerves to the breathing > > musculature to faciliate this - early members of our genus, like H. > erectus, > > apparently had not, and so presumably were not prone to chattering. Then > you > > also need a brain capable of processing all this short sounds more-or-less > in > > real time. > > > > The current best guess seems to be that the physiological and neurological > > prerequisites for human language as we know it today was not in place until > > 200-300k years ago. By this time our lineage was already separate from the > > Neanderthals' - I do not know if parallel changes occured in theirs. > > SPOKEN human language, yes. But, why should the first languages have > been spoken? Why couldn't they have been sign languages? Even > chimpanzees have sufficient manual dexterity for that. And even without > the control of breathing, I could imagine an early hominid speaking in > short bursts. It would've been slow, yes, but it could work. Just as > ... one can ... talk like ... this, and ... be un- ... derstood.
I never said anything about the first language, or sign language, or speaking in short bursts. I addressed spoken language of a modern type because that's something I can say something meaningful about. FWIW, H. erectus patently had sufficient manual dexterity for sign language. But there's no way we can tell whether they actually used a form of gestural communication sophisticated enough we'd call it a "language". We however *can* tell, with a fair amount of certainty, that they did not chatter away in modern-style spoken language. Andreas