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Old November 16th, 2012, 07:24 PM   #31

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Humans may take their cue about the origins of languages from the other species that exist on this planet that also communicate with sounds. Many animals have significant and elaborate sound communications. Ones that seem universal to these species. So some human language may be potentially inate.
Humans have the great potential for plasticity in language and as human languages move further from their original source this plasticity becomes very evident. Plus human language is also absorptive, being influenced by adjacent language streams with language blending as well. If there was ever a language of origin it was more likely the inate kind. The same as out closest relatives, the Chimpanzees have. And more often associated with gestures as well as sounds. Something like the sounds and movements a dog uses when it wants to communicate "I need to go out." Naming any object or activity would have been either arbitrary or by descriptive association. The sun would be seen as a "yellow round" associating the color yellow (or word for yellow) and the word for its' roundness. It might additionally be yellow fire round as additional descriptive association to the word hot. Humans would have initially created sounds for all the common aspects found in their environments. "White hard water" would have become an anachronism once these descriptive associations no longer were commonly found in the environment. Once "snow" was no longer part of that group's experience. As groups came together in common association new words, experience and association would be introduced. After thousands of years of such influx a fully developed language would have come into existence, In the Film: The God's Must Be Crazy" the African tribe with the coke bottle which fell out of the sky had to come up with a new way of describing what it was based on their very isolated language skills. Which is most likely what every people would have to do when confronted with something outside their usual experience. They would combine the word usage they already have to describe such new conditions.

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Old November 16th, 2012, 09:32 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by Zarin View Post
Humans may take their cue about the origins of languages from the other species that exist on this planet that also communicate with sounds. Many animals have significant and elaborate sound communications. Ones that seem universal to these species. So some human language may be potentially inate.
Humans have the great potential for plasticity in language and as human languages move further from their original source this plasticity becomes very evident. Plus human language is also absorptive, being influenced by adjacent language streams with language blending as well. If there was ever a language of origin it was more likely the inate kind. The same as out closest relatives, the Chimpanzees have. And more often associated with gestures as well as sounds. Something like the sounds and movements a dog uses when it wants to communicate "I need to go out." Naming any object or activity would have been either arbitrary or by descriptive association. The sun would be seen as a "yellow round" associating the color yellow (or word for yellow) and the word for its' roundness. It might additionally be yellow fire round as additional descriptive association to the word hot. Humans would have initially created sounds for all the common aspects found in their environments. "White hard water" would have become an anachronism once these descriptive associations no longer were commonly found in the environment. Once "snow" was no longer part of that group's experience. As groups came together in common association new words, experience and association would be introduced. After thousands of years of such influx a fully developed language would have come into existence, In the Film: The God's Must Be Crazy" the African tribe with the coke bottle which fell out of the sky had to come up with a new way of describing what it was based on their very isolated language skills. Which is most likely what every people would have to do when confronted with something outside their usual experience. They would combine the word usage they already have to describe such new conditions.
Excellent opening point
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Old November 19th, 2012, 02:14 AM   #33
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However, members of Khoisan family display the largest amount of sounds of human languages. Furthermore, the most recently colonized areas of the world (Polynesian islands), shows the lesser amount of soundings.

For sure, Khoisan languagse are not exactly the original language, but they are the closer one, the most conservative.
It has been proposed that there is a correlation between the number of sounds and the distance from Africa in languages, but this supposed correlation is very weak. Not all the outliers a long way away from the best-fit line:

Click the image to open in full size.

And this weak correlation is only supported by quite unconvincing data, for the simple reason that counting sounds is not easy. The data above was calculated by looking at three different things - tone diversity, consonant diversity, and vowel diversity; and then taking an average of the three. Given that there are generally more ways to be diverse with consonants than there are with tones, this gives an unfair weighting to tonal languages (like, notably, Khoisan and Nilo-Saharan languages). If you don't count the tonal data, the correlation pretty much vanishes.

Finally, all this could be used to demonstrate, if we accept that all is correct, is that African languages retained more phonemes. It doesn't tell us if they were more or less conservative in grammar or vocabulary, only that they possibly have a closer sound set. And that still assumes that the conservative position was the one with more sounds. Isn't it just as conceivable that several new sounds were innovated in Africa, spread far within the continent, and a few spread to Europe and the Middle East - without any reaching the distant populations of Polynesia and the New World?

There's simply not enough data to make this sort of speculation.

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I agree with Frank and Joshua that the so-called 'Khoisan' languages would be a good place to start in the search for a common ancestoral language based on the following obsevances.

The birth place of humans is likely to be the birthplace of human language.
Africa being the birthplace of human language is pretty much certain, but this does not mean the languages there are more likely to be conservative than those anywhere else. English originated in England, but the language continued to evolve there after being exported elsewhere. English English lost its terminal Rs, for instance, which were usually retained in American English.
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Old November 19th, 2012, 11:18 AM   #34

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Africa being the birthplace of human language is pretty much certain, but this does not mean the languages there are more likely to be conservative than those anywhere else. English originated in England, but the language continued to evolve there after being exported elsewhere. English English lost its terminal Rs, for instance, which were usually retained in American English.
Although it is true that Arica is considered the birthplace of several human species, it may not be the birthplace of what is considered "language." Only that which might be considered inate to all previous or subsequent human species. Or only the ones that descended from what is believed to be an African ancestory. This is because the flow of these various species is more or less unknown once they the emerged out of the continent of Africa. Plus several went into extinction or possibly merged with Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens is the only surviving hominid species. However, it was not the only one that may have been capable of vocal expression. And this capability may have been constantly transferred through the 250,000 years that it is believed that the first hominids (who were not Homo Sapiens) originally migrated out of Africa. And we have no way of knowing if "language" had developed as we consider it at this particular time. However, language developement and transferrence could have gone in a vast number of directions. It is also possible that a reverse immigration also took place and what is currently considered the earliest or first human populations in Africa could very well be later introductions of other superior hominid migrations from outside it. Human movement is not in one direction only. This backflow migration could have Included Homo Sapiens, itself. Especially since Homo Sapiens are everywhere on this planet. We cannot be even certain that the first hominids out of Africa had or needed dark skin, either. Only that many Homo Sapiens derivatives currently residing in Africa have developed this evolutionary characteristic. And we do not know exactly when this characteristic first developed either.
No one can deny that there have been extensive and complete pressures on many human groups to move out of their original regions by more aggressive hominid populations. These in turn pushed others out of their homelands and so forth, etc. Many to the point of complete genetic extermination. The evolution of humanity is not straight lined but more like overlapping and interacting fractalization. The only true way to trace language developement is by sound and meaning. The oldest commonalities should be the closest to the original means of expression. One only has to find one single sound all humans have for the same meaning to begin this origin construction. Or at least among any particular racial distinction. What all three races have in common both liguistically and meaning wise should be the actual commonality of origin for any current basic language connection or meaning. And since language is not intrinsically DNA based or created by DNA command, that is the only way to determined how it grew, became more complex and how it actually flowed. But this processes may be very flawed due to the incredible plasticity of all language, at least as demonstrated in Homo Sapiens.
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Old November 19th, 2012, 03:21 PM   #35

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Zarin in your post I see some interesting stuff, but absolutely no source cited. Anyway, some questions arise.

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Although it is true that Arica is considered the birthplace of several human species, it may not be the birthplace of what is considered "language." Only that which might be considered inate to all previous or subsequent human species.
Previous or subsequent to what?

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Or only the ones that descended from what is believed to be an African ancestory. This is because the flow of these various species is more or less unknown once they the emerged out of the continent of Africa. Plus several went into extinction or possibly merged with Homo Sapiens. Homo Sapiens is the only surviving hominid species. However, it was not the only one that may have been capable of vocal expression. And this capability may have been constantly transferred through the 250,000 years that it is believed that the first hominids (who were not Homo Sapiens) originally migrated out of Africa. And we have no way of knowing if "language" had developed as we consider it at this particular time. However, language developement and transferrence could have gone in a vast number of directions.
I certainly agree that we have no way of knowing whether Homo sapiens was the first or only species to develop language.

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It is also possible that a reverse immigration also took place and what is currently considered the earliest or first human populations in Africa could very well be later introductions of other superior hominid migrations from outside it. Human movement is not in one direction only. This backflow migration could have Included Homo Sapiens, itself. Especially since Homo Sapiens are everywhere on this planet.
This is intriguing. Please cite a reputable source, so that I may learn more about this "backflow migration."

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We cannot be even certain that the first hominids out of Africa had or needed dark skin, either. Only that many Homo Sapiens derivatives currently residing in Africa have developed this evolutionary characteristic. And we do not know exactly when this characteristic first developed either.
No one can deny that there have been extensive and complete pressures on many human groups to move out of their original regions by more aggressive hominid populations. These in turn pushed others out of their homelands and so forth, etc. Many to the point of complete genetic extermination. The evolution of humanity is not straight lined but more like overlapping and interacting fractalization.
You seem to know something about anthropology, so I imagine you're already aware that--

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Studies using mitochondrial (mt)DNA and nuclear DNA markers consistently indicate that Africa is the most genetically diverse region of the world.

[From "Genetic Analysis of African Populations: Human Evolution and Complex Disease" (PDF)]
Also, the earliest known fossils of modern humans were found in Africa. So both the genetic and the fossil evidence points to modern humans arising first in Africa. Though there are a couple of other models, including the "multiregional" model which you seem to support, the latter is seeming less and less likely. Why do you think it's more reasonable than an African origin for modern humans?

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The only true way to trace language developement is by sound and meaning. The oldest commonalities should be the closest to the original means of expression. One only has to find one single sound all humans have for the same meaning to begin this origin construction. Or at least among any particular racial distinction. What all three races have in common both liguistically and meaning wise should be the actual commonality of origin for any current basic language connection or meaning.
Why would somebody as intelligent as you still be clinging to the "three races" nonsense? Can you cite any reputable scientific source younger than the early 20th century which supports the idea that Homo sapiens should be divided into three races?

You may actually have something worthwhile and interesting to say about the development of language in this post, but I'm having trouble sorting it out from the things that raise questions in my mind.

Last edited by Recusant; November 19th, 2012 at 03:58 PM.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 02:41 AM   #36

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This area of research is of some interest to me, however until we can find evidence of the time when humans first thought in symbolic terms, began producing representations, and exhibiting conceptual thought processes we have to resign ourselves to making educated guesses. However there is an alternative and that offers the possibility human languages originated from a time when ape-like man was more man-like ape.

A professor of Linguistics once told me that before something had a name, it did not exist. Perhaps what he meant was that humans would not have existed separate from the environment, until we began naming objects and events. In other words, humans (not necessarily Homo Sapiens) before producing language, moved across the Earth as would an animal; physical objects, other animals and events were instinctually food, sex or threat. The higher animals would run, attack or submit.

We know that we come from a long line of social animals, as does the chimp and language was a necessity of social groups... Non or semi verbal perhaps, but language none the less. Human languages probably started to develop in a sophisticated verbal way when we needed to communicate with others who did not understand us intimately as did our family. The less we acted as instinctual animals, seeing everything in terms of need to procreate, eat or feel secure, "sex, food or threat", the more we tried to communicate, which in turn opened up trade and permitted things like inter-tribal marriage. Writing, a record of early languages came much later as city states formed as a result of agriculture and domesticated animals. A spoken mother language is so far back in our human experience it may never be truly known.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 02:41 AM   #37

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In saying all this, I don't necessarily disagree with other theories... Just putting my ideas forward.

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Old November 21st, 2012, 11:36 AM   #38

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Zarin in your post I see some interesting stuff, but absolutely no source cited. Anyway, some questions arise.
Previous or subsequent to what?
Previous or subsequent to any emigrations of hominids out of Africa.




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This is intriguing. Please cite a reputable source, so that I may learn more about this "backflow migration."
You should realize that population movements are not always singularly or linearly "out of somewhere." They also include "back into areas" as well. Species migration can move in any direction. And have. A hominid species could very well have originated in Africa and moved out of this continent and evolved into Homo Sapiens. Then a variant of early Homo Sapiens could just as well have moved back into Africa and overwhelmed or displaced the original hominid groups still remaining there.
Invasions of Africa, from outside of it, by other migrating groups is a well known fact in recorded history. The one thing that is reasonably established and considered for sure is how many of the other already known previous hominid variants were displaced and extinguished by Homo Sapiens. Apparently, all of them. Including those that once existed in Africa. Genetics and the earliest evidence, so far discovered, does not categorically prevent this from having actually happened either. There are countless hominid groups that we do not have any record of and unknown Homo Sapiens variants, that have totally disappeared. Of course, logic has to be based on what evidence does exist. However, such evidence is based solely on the Homo Sapien variant that only currently exists and not on what has not yet been discovered. Or even can be discovered. One of the major fallacies of knowledge is that it can only be based on what can be found. Not on what has been lost. And so much more of this planet's genetic and actual history has been lost and cannot be retrieved.
I do not doubt from contemporary evidence so far discovered that Homo Sapiens or a predecessor may have originated in Africa. But honestly question whether Homo Sapiens actually originally evolved there and then moved out to conquer the rest of the world. We simply cannot be 100% sure of this. And it is very possible that Homo Sapiens, as we currently determine this species' uniqueness; could have evolved outside of Africa and moved back into it.

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Why would somebody as intelligent as you still be clinging to the "three races" nonsense? Can you cite any reputable scientific source younger than the early 20th century which supports the idea that Homo sapiens should be divided into three races?
I have always been taught that there were three distinct racial groups. Negroid, Caucasian and Mongoloid. And then numerous sub-races derived from these three basic categories. I was educated in the last half of the twentieth century. My reference was generalized for purposes of conciseness.
However, I am glad that you did question this generalization. It promulgated me to research what the current evaluations of "race" actually are. Especially since I am not an anthropologist and all the sciences are constantly going through massive influxes of new information. So much that no one could possibly retain it all. Which is why we have the internet.
The current trend is to concentrate on "ethnicity." But this is only a very contemporary concept that is starting to become the consensus among most anthropogists. Mainly because there seems to be less focus on "race" and more on actual genetic lineage (thanks to the much clearer evidence of the connections created by more accurate DNA information). Which also explains the various tints, shades and physical variances that exist out there. This is most likely coming from a more honest and logical extension of what is being discovered from contemporary genetic knowledge. And this is an ongoing process. DNA is a concept that has only become reliable in the last half of the 20th century.
Apparently, thanks to DNA, the concept of "race" is becoming obsolete.
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You may actually have something worthwhile and interesting to say about the development of language in this post, but I'm having trouble sorting it out from the things that raise questions in my mind.
Having questions about what anyone posts is what makes these forums both interesting and educational. All one has to do is respond to such "questions" as well as one is capable of.
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Old November 21st, 2012, 12:35 PM   #39
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I think all language must have evolved from a common proto-language. The alternative is that either people without the capacity for language evolved it independently of each other after spreading around the world; or that people for a long time had the capacity for language; but never used it, only independently developing languages later.

It seems much more likely to me that all speech descends from some Ur-language, but the chance that any trace of it is discernable today is pretty much zero. Consider the huge difference between German and Russian. These are two languages that only diverged from one another about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. During this time they've had much interaction and borrowing of words; as well as both borrowing words from languages like Greek and Latin. For the last thousand years or more they've been written languagues, which slows down evolution; and they've been spoken by large societies, which also has a conservative effect. While we can still see the relationships, they're very different languages.

Consider how much more change can occur over the tens or hundreds of thousands of years, if not longer, since our ancestors all spoke the same language. For the overwhelming majority of this time there would be no writing, and languages would be shared by only small groups - allowing changes to accumulate much more rapidly.

In the vanishingly unlikely event any trace from this Ur-tongue survived in similarities between modern languages, it would be indistinguishable from chance convergence.
Thanks to diglossia, standard Arabic and other liturgical languages aren't going to change significantly anytime soon. While the vulgar dialects of arabic evolve, the standard stays the same.
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Old November 21st, 2012, 02:09 PM   #40

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My first question for you, Zarin, was an attempt to get you to clarify what seemed to me to be a statement which was somewhat difficult to parse. You have not helped much with your cryptic response. I will try to phrase the idea clearly, then you might tell me whether I've understood you correctly.
Although it is true that Arica is considered the birthplace of several human species, it may not be the birthplace of what is considered "language." Rather, it might be the birthplace of language which was innate to hominin species which existed previous to the migrations of such species out of Africa, and of hominin species which existed in Africa subsequent to those migrations.
Though I have some thoughts regarding the above statement, I'd appreciate it if you could first confirm that I've understood you correctly. If I have not, please try to lay out your idea in unequivocal language.

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This is intriguing. Please cite a reputable source, so that I may learn more about this "backflow migration."
You should realize that population movements are not always singularly or linearly "out of somewhere." They also include "back into areas" as well. Species migration can move in any direction. And have. . . .
Note that I did not ask you for your ideas and conjectures on the topic of migrations, Zarin. I specifically asked you for a citation of a reputable source from which I might learn more about what is actually known regarding actual migrations back into Africa. One would think that somebody writing in such a self-assured manner as you have on this topic would be able to cite evidence in support of their position.

You skipped over my question regarding your apparent support for what is known as the "multi-regional model" of the evolution of Homo sapiens, and I think it's relevant to your position regarding the origin of language. So, again: Do you indeed think that the multi-regional model is the most likely? If so, what do you consider convincing evidence in support of that model? Have you considered the evidence which supports the African origin of Homo sapiens? If so, why do you think it is less convincing than the multi-regional model?

Last edited by Recusant; November 21st, 2012 at 02:26 PM.
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