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Language from an evolutionary standpoint

Im wondering about the evolution of language. Questions like why so many languages exist, why languages use certain grammar and syntax, etc.

One idea I had is that languages have different niches such as ease of learning, descriptive capability, efficiency, etc., which (to some extent) may have given certain cultures a survival advantage.

Another interesting idea is that different languages can cause someone to have a different "worldview" or personality. Heres a quote from an article about the subject:

"Greeks are very loud and they interrupt each other very often. The reason for that is the Greek grammar and syntax"

You can read the atricle here: http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/11/multilingualism

And heres another article about "linguistic relativity": http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/supplement2.html

If anyone has thoughts about the evolution of language, I'd love to hear them.

3 years ago

11 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/JeanPaul.Fr

An interesting theory is that around 70,000 years ago there was a "Cognitive Revolution" in Homo Sapiens, whereby language evolved to allow humans to share information about each other (i.e. gossip), and so allowed for the creation of larger groupings of human being than had existed before. But even more importantly, language and the mind changed to allow for creation of imaginary entities that had no concrete existence in the material world - the evolution of a "fictive language" which enabled Sapiens to conquer the world. All part of a free and interesting course by Professor Yuval Hariri, entitled "A Brief History of Mankind" https://www.coursera.org/course/humankind, hosted by https://www.coursera.org (which also offer various other free lectures from institutions such as Harvard, Stanford etc.)

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ilincaiuli3

I love your movie

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/no.name.42
no.name.42
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I read someone say that languages simplify when there are more adult learners, and grow more complex when only native speakers use their language.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SarahBecraft

I read an essay about this once and the essay posed a theory that began with pointing out that contrary to popular opinion, other animals have complex languages, just not as complex, particularly in the case of abstract thought. They looked at the differences, and they developed a theory that the reason is because our survival has been so deeply been based in the ability to adapt through innovation, manipulation, planning, changing the environment around us to our needs, adapting ourselves to face environmental challenges (e.g., clothes for inclement weather) etc.

We don't just communicate to each other to migrate or hunt. We plan out burning for agricultural development, build cities, change waterways, etc. Our need to communicate to each other for survival is complex and involves a lot of abstract communication, and therefore our languages are more complex than any other known animal on the planet, with possibly some cetaceans being around the second most complex in communication. The theory seems pretty sensible to me, because it is true that other species don't have these characteristics to nearly the same extent as we do, but doesn't try to deny that some other species (other apes, cetaceans, and elephants in particular) have developed what goes beyond simple rudimentary warning calls and body language and have something a lot more exact and sophisticated.

(In turn, the need for abstract language lends to the ability to create symbolic language, which we've all used very successfully in many different ways to pass down histories, cultural knowledge, communicate across distances, etc.)

I'll see if I can find the article; I'm sure I still have that textbook somewhere.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/SaintCharlie

Language evolves through time. . . . as men does.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/superdaisy

There's a lot more gene flow--especially of the horizontal transfer sort--in language than in biology.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/vcel10
vcel10
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Stephen Pinker's The Language Instinct might interest you.

Thanks for sharing the Economist article link.


I would definitely agree that you will expand your worldview with the addition of another language. You're adding an entirely different vocabulary and viewpoint. Some times while comparing two words, I realize that they may different nuanced meanings. It all depends on context and culture.

A. Controversy: n. disagreement, typically when prolonged, public, and heated.

B. controversia. (Del lat. controversĭa).

  • f. Discusión de opiniones contrapuestas entre dos o más personas.

  • f. Cuba. contrapunteo (‖ desafío en que se cantan versos improvisados).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/raans
raans
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Thanks for sharing the article of the Economist. Quite interesting, including some of the comments.

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/superdaisy

Did anyone find the Exploratorium page on the evolution of language, both from a "how did these languages diverge" and a "how did language as a whole emerge" sense. http://www.exploratorium.edu/exploring/language/

People more interested in the evolution of speech and human communication might like this NPR piece: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/09/05/219236801/when-did-human-speech-evolve

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Fraxinicus

Speaking as a 4th year linguistics major:

The scholarly consensus is that your language does not significantly affect how you think or feel. Studies do indicate some minor cognitive effects, such as the way we divide up colors being affected by how our language divides up color terms. But studies also show that there isn't much beyond that.

For so many reasons, the idea that Greeks are loud and interruptive because of Greek grammar and syntax is completely ridiculous.

"One idea I had is that languages have different niches such as ease of learning, descriptive capability, efficiency, etc., which (to some extent) may have given certain cultures a survival advantage."

Generally, humans adapt their language to fit their circumstances, not the other way around. History is replete with examples of languages expanding vocabulary massively when presented with the need (like Japan building up a complete modern technological vocabulary during their relatively short period of Westernization).

3 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/mebestia

This is interesting stuff, but I don't buy those ideas. For instance, language itself is a huge survival advantage, but individual cultures don't live because of traits of their languages, they live because of politics and who has the biggest guns. Learnability? Only the severely mentally disabled can't learn their own language. No language would ever naturally get to the point of being so difficult that people who needed to learn it couldn't. Who would pass on this new, more complex version? No one. The just-simple-enough version of the language would win out every time.

Descriptive capacity? When you encounter something you can't describe, you just make a word for it, and boom, descriptive ability. Happens all the time. Efficiency? I remember learning somewhere that if a language takes more syllables or words to get an idea across, they just say that many more syllables/words per minute. Regardless of the rate you're making sounds at, languages convey the same amount of ideas in about the same amount of time.

Linguistic Relativity is basically discredited.

Unfortunately I don't have any new thoughts to add. I love this as a subject, even though I'm shooting down the specific examples you gave. The most interesting thing I can think of is that written language is not part of this discussion. Writing isn't a language skill that we evolved, it's a technology that we invented. Only three to five known cultures have independently invented writing (two are debatable). We think of writing as this inherent part of language, a basic thing you can judge a child's development by, spot geniuses and the mentally disabled by. But I don't think it's been around long enough for us to have physically evolved for written language in any way. In fact, to learn written language, we give up a degree of listening comprehension.

Go to Reddit and lurk in /r/linguistics. You will learn some cool stuff.

3 years ago