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Human Language Revisited

The other day, I was reading a work by Pascal Picq and two others. Yes, right, Les origines du langage, and the two others were Bernard Victorri and Jean-Louis Dessalles.

I will leave the book in the luggage for now, and add footnotes later, on who wrote what.

One of them very rightly said that human language is based on double articulation, as already observed by Chomsky : a meaningful phrase or word articulated into morphemes, and morphemes articulated into phonemes. Distinction being, a morpheme has some kind of lexical or syntax enhancing meaning on its own, while phonemes do not.

Dog bites man. Four non-zero morphemes : dog, bite, -s, man. Or even six, dog, before verb, bite, -s, man, after verb.

Latin : Canis hominem mordet.

Six non-zero morphemes : cani-, -s, homin-, -em, morde-, -t.

Latin -s corresponds to English zero morpheme for plural plus before verb. Two meanings in one, singular and nominative.

Latin -em corresponds to English zero morpheme for plural plus after verb. Two meanings in one, singular and accusative.

Most morphemes are more than one sound or an arrangement of other morphemes, and each sound that has a meaningful reason to be there is a phoneme, but each phoneme lacks meaning.

The fellow that barks is designated in English by d-o-g, in Latin by k-a-n-i/e. The fellow that speaks is designated in English by m-æ-n and in Latin by h-o-m-i-n. The act is designated by English b-ie-t, Latin m-o-r-d-e. The syntactic relation of "now" is in English -s, in Latin choice of morde rather than momord or mors, and zero morpheme for possibilities -bi- / -ba- / -a-, that of one actor not speaker or spoken to by English -s (two meanings in one) and Latin -t. The relation of who does it to whom is in English word order and in Latin -s or -em (with two meanings in one for singular involved).

It was not very clearly spelled out, more taken for granted. And the linguist who had pointed this out before them, Chomsky, has been called "the creationists' linguist" - because no non-human animal communicates this way. Not one has double articulation, message divided into potentially more than one meaningful morphemes, morphemes divided into potentially more than one, in themselves meaningless phonemes.

Similarily, it was taken for granted that a very simple syntax (or even lack of it) with words or morphemes already articulated into phonemes could develop syntactic complexity. To the authors, Homo erectus went around saying equivalents of "man bite dog", "man dog bite", "bite man dog", "bite dog man", "dog man bite" and "dog bite man" all to convey the latter meaning, dog bites man. Fixing the syntax came later. But this already pre-supposes having multipurpose phonemes meaningless in isolation, usually, so as to have a broad repertoir of words, fixed by convention.

As I can recall, none of them even attempted to explain this one very closely.

They also claimed, or one of them did, that the evolutionary advantage of the first, syntax-less, language, was to provide information and seem knowledgeable, the advantage of the latter, developing syntax, was arguing and depreciating the contributions of others if fakers.

But they left out how man could be interested in non-present and not immediately verifiable information, when brutes are not.

You tell apes the equivalent of "there are bananas over there" and if they believe you and follow you and there are bananas, you count as knowledgeable. If there aren't, they will scold you for faking. If you fake often enough, they will give a shrug equivalent to "says you!"

You tell men the equivalent of "there were bananas over there yesterday, but a flock of apes came and stole them" your story will definitely evoke interest. In some contexts, you would be suspected of having stolen them yourself. But leaving out that, you would count as knowledeable for providing the interesting background to banana trees where there are no bananas any more. Even if no one could check your story about yesterday and even if no one cared to eat one more banana. OK, someone might want to depreciate that too, but to apes you could neither convey that type of message nor make them interested if you could.

Why is man different from that?

Well, there is an old story which Jean-Louis Dessalles, Pascal Picq and Bernard Victorri have so far not superseded.

Genesis 1:26 And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

Genesis 2:16 And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: [17] But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. [18] And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself. [19] And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air, brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name. [20] And Adam called all the beasts by their names, and all the fowls of the air, and all the cattle of the field: but for Adam there was not found a helper like himself.

[21] Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. [22] And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. [23] And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. [24] Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.

Hmm ... understanding a conditional threat? Naming animals? Understanding his relation to Eve in concepts?

Sounds very unlike anything one claims for beasts, and can be explained by God creating Adam specially.

If you are somewhat read in books like the one by Jean-Louis Dessalles and two more and critical of things that seem to make no sense, well, you might also have this very solid feeling, not only did that book by an evolutionist give no better version than our special creation, but neither will the next book of the kind.

While one of them gives a discussion of Merrit Ruhlen's proposal of monogenesis of language, while depreciating his actual etymologies, this is peanuts compared to why we have language at all, and the one merit of the book is, unlike many popular believers in evolution and therefore in hominisation, these three are not confusing the issue.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Bibliothèque Audoux
Third Day of Pentecost

This post first appeared on Creation Vs Evolution, please read the originial post: here

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Human Language Revisited


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