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edenlog

Origin of ancient language

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edenlog

I'm curious how ancient civilizations developed such complex languages seemingly out of nowhere, can anyone give me some insight? Thanks

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Kenemet

We don't really know.  

Language arises as need arises.  You move into a new area and there's a big beastie that honks and flails at the brush and it's up to you to come up with a name.  Make a sharp stick with a big rock and you get to name it.

Innovation drives progress and that drives language.  As people separate (and there's long distances between them), language changes to become highly regional.  That's why the various flavors of English sound different and have a lot of different expressions and words. 

In our global world, we are starting to mesh them back together.  But it all originates in people going to new places and having new experience and making up words to explain things.

However, some traces of the root language remain... which is how they figured out some of what would have been in Proto-Indo_European.  To date there's a limit on how far back we can trace it.

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jaylemurph
43 minutes ago, edenlog said:

I'm curious how ancient civilizations developed such complex languages seemingly out of nowhere, can anyone give me some insight? Thanks

...what makes you think language developed out of nowhere, rather than being a slow, evolutionary process over millennia?

--Jaylemurph 

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Sir Wearer of Hats

Well, it's simple.
"Ug" couldn't be used to describe both a rock, a wet rock and a tiger. 

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Not A Rockstar

We have zero way to prove language was sudden, it was probably a process as the above posters talk about, like every other development in our progression. We have very early paintings on cave walls which express complex thoughts and goals. Writing and records preserved, when things were carved into rocks and put on pliable surfaces like skins and parchment came a lot later in technology and have a hard time surviving to be found readily today, but they seem to show up pretty early in civilization and IMO tend to prove that the spoken language by then was complex and of long standing.

Not a linguist but, this progression seems pretty evident to me.

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Piney
6 hours ago, edenlog said:

I'm curious how ancient civilizations developed such complex languages seemingly out of nowhere, can anyone give me some insight? Thanks

Is English your only language?

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fred_mc
Posted (edited)

I find it a bit interesting that when you go back in time, the languages seem to become more and more grammatically complex the further back in time you go. For example, I speak Swedish as native language, and I know that the ancient Nordic language spoken around the time of the Vikings was grammatically much more complex. I know that modern Icelandic, which is the language that today is closest to ancient Nordic, is much more grammatically complex than Swedish too.

My guess is that this is because when people started to have a language they didn't think "Oh, we must create a grammatical system.". They just made things up along the way, where basically everything was a special rule since they were not thinking about creating a grammatical system, resulting in something quite complicated, which first later gradually got more and more systemized/simplified. At least that is my thinking but I might be wrong.

 

Edited by fred_mc
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Piney
1 hour ago, fred_mc said:

I find it a bit interesting that when you go back in time, the languages seem to become more and more grammatically complex the further back in time you go. For example, I speak Swedish as native language, and I know that the ancient Nordic language spoken around the time of the Vikings was grammatically much more complex. I know that modern Icelandic, which is the language that today is closest to ancient Nordic, is much more grammatically complex than Swedish too.

My guess is that this is because when people started to have a language they didn't think "Oh, we must create a grammatical system.". They just made things up along the way, where basically everything was a special rule since they were not thinking about creating a grammatical system, resulting in something quite complicated, which first later gradually got more and more systemized/simplified. At least that is my thinking but I might be wrong.

 

Hunter-gatherers had the most complex languages but they had a lot of time to sit around and philosophize. 

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edenlog
9 hours ago, jaylemurph said:

...what makes you think language developed out of nowhere, rather than being a slow, evolutionary process over millennia?

--Jaylemurph 

It seems all animals have some form of communication, and nature seems to have had this "planned" [so to say] because all animals do communicate in some way to one another.  I think early humans also had a way of communication, not by choice, but by nature gave us  the tools to do so by sounds, and written language is just the means of transcribing this communication, that's why I see it as something happening not as a progression, but the development of further  language complexities being a progression.

5 hours ago, Not A Rockstar said:

We have zero way to prove language was sudden, it was probably a process as the above posters talk about, like every other development in our progression. We have very early paintings on cave walls which express complex thoughts and goals. Writing and records preserved, when things were carved into rocks and put on pliable surfaces like skins and parchment came a lot later in technology and have a hard time surviving to be found readily today, but they seem to show up pretty early in civilization and IMO tend to prove that the spoken language by then was complex and of long standing.

Not a linguist but, this progression seems pretty evident to me.

Language or communication? is there a distinction?  All animals communicate, why would pre human beings be different? Nature cleary gave species a way to communicate, I think this communication being transformed into writing or images was sudden but complexities arising from that being a progression and this is what we call "language".

 Dogs have their own "language"  for example, but they do not have the capacity to put this in writing, human beings do.  All languages are sounds, human beings attach meanings to them but we do not make up the sound, it is made by nature giving us a certain window into sound by the vocal range, I also think there are innate sounds that have meaning nature ascribed to them  (like  a mating call or a hungry call) independent of human meaning. 

A nature dictated meaning has nothing to do with mystical or supernatural, but being a method of survival, this meaning is just a specific sound the body recognizes outside the human mind.  Just as the body sense taste by taste receptors on the tongue and extra oral taste receptors throughout the entire body-these have nothing to do with the human mind, but being an innate trait created by the body and taste sensitivity being specific to a person's genetics because the body knows what it needs to survive.  Thus it is also reasonable to say the body knows what sounds it needs to make to be understood by other human beings, just as dogs do not speak like humans but can still communicate to other dogs..

 

3 hours ago, Piney said:

Is English your only language?

yes

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Kenemet
3 hours ago, fred_mc said:

I find it a bit interesting that when you go back in time, the languages seem to become more and more grammatically complex the further back in time you go. For example, I speak Swedish as native language, and I know that the ancient Nordic language spoken around the time of the Vikings was grammatically much more complex. I know that modern Icelandic, which is the language that today is closest to ancient Nordic, is much more grammatically complex than Swedish too.

My guess is that this is because when people started to have a language they didn't think "Oh, we must create a grammatical system.". They just made things up along the way, where basically everything was a special rule since they were not thinking about creating a grammatical system, resulting in something quite complicated, which first later gradually got more and more systemized/simplified. At least that is my thinking but I might be wrong.

 

How are you judging the complexity of a language?  Just curious.  Could you give an example?

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Myles
27 minutes ago, edenlog said:

 just as dogs do not speak like humans but can still communicate to other dogs..

 

 

Dogs don't communicate with each other as much as you like to think.   Not really any different than they try to communicate with cats, goats or us.  

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Opus Magnus

There's always the Tower of Babel. The english language is sort of bridging the gap, make the whole world speak english. Hurry up and waste all the gasoline in confused circles before the whole world can unite in one space program. Everybody that is around has been here the whole time, throughout generations, even though it appears a bit confusing with broken history records.

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fred_mc
1 hour ago, Kenemet said:

How are you judging the complexity of a language?  Just curious.  Could you give an example?

For example, more cases and more genders for nouns makes a language more complex I think. In Swedish, the male and female genders have disappeared, we only have two genders left (reale and neutrum). English has lost genders completely I think.

Another example is that more verb forms makes a language more complex I think. For example, Swedish has almost lost the form conjunctive (remains in some expressions).

 

 

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Not A Rockstar
2 hours ago, edenlog said:

It seems all animals have some form of communication, and nature seems to have had this "planned" [so to say] because all animals do communicate in some way to one another.  I think early humans also had a way of communication, not by choice, but by nature gave us  the tools to do so by sounds, and written language is just the means of transcribing this communication, that's why I see it as something happening not as a progression, but the development of further  language complexities being a progression.

Language or communication? is there a distinction?   

OK, so you are saying that we had something like telepathy naturally and everything else came from that to transcribe it? That something (outside of our control) happened... and it was sudden and you know this.

Got it.

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Sir Wearer of Hats

I’d posit that early languages evolved exactly the same way English does - stealing liberally from the new groups of people/languages it encounters and then some smart aleck coming up with new words when the time is needed and/or they were being funny. 

Lets say a tribe lives near a big river and has to deal with crocodiles. Therefore they have a word for crocodile. They meet a tribe which has never met a crocodile, therefore don’t have a word for it, that new tribe would therefore take the old tribe’s word for crocodile and use it. 

 

I dare say say it all had to do with food.

safe.

not safe.

Two words. Easy.

Once we had fire, we would need words for fire, and safe, not safe, safe after cooking, not safe after cooking, better after cooking, worse after cooking.

one innovation quadruples the words we needed simply to tell if something is safe to eat.

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Harte
15 hours ago, jaylemurph said:

...what makes you think language developed out of nowhere, rather than being a slow, evolutionary process over millennia?

--Jaylemurph 

I just assumed he meant writing.

Harte

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jaylemurph
10 hours ago, Opus Magnus said:

There's always the Tower of Babel. The english language is sort of bridging the gap, make the whole world speak english. Hurry up and waste all the gasoline in confused circles before the whole world can unite in one space program. Everybody that is around has been here the whole time, throughout generations, even though it appears a bit confusing with broken history records.

There isn't now; there wasn't even then.

6 hours ago, Harte said:

I just assumed he meant writing.

Harte

...same issue, surely? Writing never appeared fully-formed at birth, like Athena.

--Jaylemurph 

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Opus Magnus
1 minute ago, jaylemurph said:

There isn't now; there wasn't even then.

...same issue, surely? Writing never appeared fully-formed at birth, like Athena.

--Jaylemurph 

That's your opinion.

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jaylemurph
4 minutes ago, Opus Magnus said:

That's your opinion.

I see you're mistaking the noted propaganda source, the Bible, for a historical document. Just because lots of prople do that doesn't make it less fundamentally wrong to do so.

--Jaylemurph 

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Opus Magnus
Just now, jaylemurph said:

I see you're mistaking the noted propaganda source, the Bible, for a historical document. Just because lots of prople do that doesn't make it less fundamentally wrong to do so.

--Jaylemurph 

I don't think so Jaylemurph, there's a lot of real history recorded in the Bible, and the Tower of Babel is always something to consider. It's not in your way of discovery.

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kmt_sesh

By language do you mean speech or writing? These are two very different things.

Animals don't have language. When an animal barks or growls or hisses or purs, it might well be ocnsidered a form of communication but it is definitely not language. The languages of humans took hundreds of thousands of years to evolve. That's not just the intellectual process of speech but the evolution of the anatomy of the throat, The earliest languages arose in Africa, and linguists think the exisintg click languages one still finds in Africa might be holdovers from the original spoken human tongue.

I've studied several languages, including ancient Egyptian and Lakota Sioux. It's true such languages are very complex. The adverbial forms and verb structures in ancient Egyptian have given me fits. But I've been told English can be a bear for a foreigner to learn, so I guess it depends on the speaker. But English is a good example of how languages tend to evolve. They seem to make themselves simpler. Hence English long ago lost its gender cases, and there are many other examples of simplification in the language. I think even this is a natural part of evolution.

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Golden Duck
15 minutes ago, kmt_sesh said:

By language do you mean speech or writing? These are two very different things.

Animals don't have language. When an animal barks or growls or hisses or purs, it might well be ocnsidered a form of communication but it is definitely not language. The languages of humans took hundreds of thousands of years to evolve. That's not just the intellectual process of speech but the evolution of the anatomy of the throat, The earliest languages arose in Africa, and linguists think the exisintg click languages one still finds in Africa might be holdovers from the original spoken human tongue.

I've studied several languages, including ancient Egyptian and Lakota Sioux. It's true such languages are very complex. The adverbial forms and verb structures in ancient Egyptian have given me fits. But I've been told English can be a bear for a foreigner to learn, so I guess it depends on the speaker. But English is a good example of how languages tend to evolve. They seem to make themselves simpler. Hence English long ago lost its gender cases, and there are many other examples of simplification in the language. I think even this is a natural part of evolution.

I was watching a video on YouTube last night. That reminded me of this thread. And I know how you all like YouTube video's so much I just had to bring this up here.

Here's a critique of Brian Cox's Human Universe Episode 1 - Apeman Spaceman. In particular the relevant part that triggered the recollection:

Quote

...

The evolution explanation started with Cox on a hillside with Gelada baboons. He is remarkably calm. Does he know some big monkeys have huge canines? It seems so but he hides his concern well, whispering to the camera. He reminds us of the scene with Attenborough and the Gorillas, even using the same voice. This then puts us in mind of Attenborough’s quote that Cox will be his successor. (He won’t – a better candidate is Chris Packham who is able to introduce up-to-date research that will be new to almost everyone, yet weave it simply into a story that all can enjoy – novices and the more up to date.) So is Cox simply doing a pose here or is this scene to be the start of the story told by this episode?

Here’s the problem. These programmes have to tell a story, of just three chunks, or maybe just two or one, but well illustrated and exemplified across the 50 minutes. What does this scene with the Geladas put into our minds? Attenborough? Presumably it’s not trying to be that cheap. Are we supposed to be reminded of the theory that large brains evolved so we could keep track of others in large groups? These Geladas live in groups of up to 500 he tells us, yet we know their brains will be smaller than solitary orangs’, even adjusting for body size. Is this what the film wants us to think about? As it doesn’t mention it, what are they there for? But it does tell us that these monkeys are not actually baboons but the last remnant of a special kind of primate. ??? What kind of special primate? How do they know? Fascinating, but why drop the whole thing there?! …and where does that take the story??

...

 

His show mentions communication of these baboons and here's what I could find:

Quote

COMMUNICATION

T. gelada
Theropithecus gelada
Photo: Peter Fashing

Adult geladas have a diverse repertoire of over thirty discrete vocalizations, including contact, reassurance, appeasement, solicitation, ambivalence and aggressive-defensive vocalizations (Kawai 1979; Aich et al. 1990). Vocalizations are often combined together into sequences. Contact calling may be continuous and the common calling and replying between individuals may have important social functions. When vocalizations are directed at the members of a different reproductive unit, they are usually threatening (Kawai 1979). In captivity, vocalizations can be divided into four discrete groups, harmonic calls (friendly and positive situations), aspirated calls (agonistic and threatening situations), kecker calls (submissive situations) and scream calls (show submission to a superordinate). Calls are to an extent related to the social status of a gelada, with certain calls restricted to those of a particular social status. Particular calls are always uttered towards dominant individuals. In addition, if social status changes, the qualitative and quantitative aspects of vocalizations change (Aich et al. 1990). In captivity, higher-ranking individuals of both sexes exhibit higher calling rates (Aich et al. 1987).

In captivity, female geladas have specific estrus calls which inform males of their condition. Further, captive experiments have shown that unit males are able to differentiate females from one another exclusively based on their calls (Moos-Heilen & Sossinka 1990).

Types of threatening or agonistic gestures include lip rolls (in which the gums and teeth are exposed by flipping the upper lip inside out over the nostrils) and the raising of the eyelids (by pulling back the scalp to show the pale eyelids) (Mori 1979b; Napier 1981; Aich et al. 1990). Submission is indicated by fleeing or presenting (Aich et al. 1990).

It is suggested that the beads of skin (fluid-filled vesicles) which appear on females during estrus may function in olfactory communication (Dunbar & Dunbar 1979c).

http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/gelada_baboon/behav

Firstly when does Language become language?  And, given the below definition, must it always be restricted to humans?

Quote

Language is a dual system of arbitrary vocal symbols used for human communication. The duality is due to the coexistence of two systems of language—the system of sounds and the system of meanings; thus, duality is a basic feature of language. Language is arbitrary because we cannot predict which features will be found in any particular language; language is symbolic because the words humans speak are associated with objects, ideas, and actions.

http://www.athabascau.ca/courses/anth/354/language.htm

 

 

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fred_mc
17 minutes ago, Golden Duck said:

I was watching a video on YouTube last night. That reminded me of this thread. And I know how you all like YouTube video's so much I just had to bring this up here.

Here's a critique of Brian Cox's Human Universe Episode 1 - Apeman Spaceman. In particular the relevant part that triggered the recollection:

His show mentions communication of these baboons and here's what I could find:

http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/gelada_baboon/behav

Firstly when does Language become language?  And, given the below definition, must it always be restricted to humans?

http://www.athabascau.ca/courses/anth/354/language.htm

 

 

Interesting that in one of the quotes it says that Attenborough has said that Brian Cox will be his successor. I'm more thinking about Brian Cox as Michio Kaku's successor.

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Golden Duck

Warning:  Off topic post

4 minutes ago, fred_mc said:

Interesting that in one of the quotes it says that Attenborough has said that Brian Cox will be his successor. I'm more thinking about Brian Cox as Michio Kaku's successor.

I hadn't really pondered on that; but, lets look at the possible context (if the moderators will indulge us)

Quote

Highlights from the film include Attenborough sharing his delight at a sentence in one of Darwin’s letters as he tries to understand the puzzle of the peacock’s elaborate plumage, "Every time I see a peacock's tail......I feel sick”. And at the close of the film Attenborough reads from a first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). He shares his admiration for Darwin as a “wonderful writer, whose books weren’t full of jargon, but instead full of argument and observation of which any person could read and it would make absolute sense”. 

Whilst sharing a stage at an award ceremony, Attenborough hailed Cox as his natural successor, saying “If I had a torch I would hand it to Brian Cox”. Now, the Royal Society’s series unites the country’s most-loved naturalist and favourite physicist in a series full of historical surprises and archival delights.

https://royalsociety.org/news/2018/01/people-of-science-brian-cox-david-attenborough/

Perhaps it's just remark about communicating science to the everyman,

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Sir Wearer of Hats
58 minutes ago, fred_mc said:

Interesting that in one of the quotes it says that Attenborough has said that Brian Cox will be his successor. I'm more thinking about Brian Cox as Michio Kaku's successor.

Given sheer volume of documentaries narrated ... it’ll be Paul McGann.

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