Date: Tue, 22 Jun 1999 08:15:46 +0200
Subject: Re: Paper on chimp culture
Mark Mills wrote:
> >> As I mentioned before, the 'invention' of creole language by human children
> >> suggests a highly creative component within the language acquisition
> >> process.
> >Creole starts from pidgin. So there is a basis to work with. So, it is
> >possible that a society of chimps might develop some sign language
> >of their own, provided
> >that we give them a start. In the end: we have once started language,
> >chimps did not. That is what remains to be explained.
> Your comment 'we started language' doesn't make much sense to me. What
> do you mean by 'started language'? I certainly did not start English,
> but I invent new terms from time to time. Did I start a language when I
> invent a term?
> When does a language start? When did 'English' start? When did
> 'pre-English' start?
> If you use a syntax rule to distinguish between 'mere vocalization' and
> 'language,' how do you pick it? How does one avoid picking a distinction
> to match pre-conceptions about human uniqueness?
Mark,the distinction between symbolic language we use and body and vocal languages
of animals has long been settled. I think it is useless to debate this.
I am not trying to defend human uniqueness if that is your problem. To the
opposite, all of my current ideas follow from life long efforts to disagree with
human uniqueness, because of the ethical impact (when we think of ourselves as a
superior species, ... see all the consequences). Still, I can't deny that symbolic
language is unique (I don't know about dolphins, elephants?, but chimps don't have
> The results of teaching chimps sign language clearly shows that chimps
> and humans have similar symbol acquisition instincts. Both human and
> chimp pick up signs from their environment without prompting. A
> proficient signing chimp scores the same on language skills tests as a
> signing 3 year old. Thus the symbol acquisition drive goes back more
> than 4 million years (when chimp and human gene pools split).
Why not even longer?
> A signing
> chimp and 3 year old human exhibit the same syntactic skills to process
> and communicate symbolically. The evolutionary difference between human
> and chimp is verbal expression, not symbol processing. How does this fit
> into an estimate of 'the start of language?'
I do not disagree, but don't understand the question.
> This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
> Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
> For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
> see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit
-- Mario Vaneechoutte Department Clinical Chemistry, Microbiology & Immunology University Hospital De Pintelaan 185 9000 GENT Belgium Phone: +32 9 240 36 92 Fax: +32 9 240 36 59
=============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit