I am continuing to reorganise my library and I am up to Language.
[Graphic: The Human Speech Organ, Klaus Fellbaum, Brandenburg Technical University of Cottbus]
Here are quotes from three different books about the uniqueness of human language.
The first is from a 1964 book by a Charles L. Barber, a Professor of English at the University of Leeds in the UK who makes the point at its very outset that "IT IS language ... that distinguishes man from the rest of the animal world" and "animals" including "apes utter different cries ... But these various means of communication differ in important ways from human language" they "are not articulate ... They also lack the ... structure that enables us to divide a human utterance into words":
"IT IS language, more obviously than anything else, that distinguishes man from the rest of the animal world. At one time it was common to define man as a thinking animal, but we can hardly imagine thought without words - not thought that is at all precise, anyway. More recently, man has often been described as a tool-making animal; but language itself is the most remarkable tool that man has invented, and is the one that makes all the others possible. The most primitive tools, admittedly, may have come earlier than language: the higher apes sometimes use sticks for digging, and have even been observed to break sticks for this purpose. But tools of any greater sophistication demand the kind of human co-operation and division of labour which is hardly possible without language. Language, in fact, is the great machine tool which makes human culture possible. Other animals, it is true, communicate with one another, or at any rate stimulate one another to action, by means of cries. Many birds utter warning calls at the approach of danger; same animals have mating calls; apes utter different cries expressive of anger, fear, pleasure. But these various means of communication differ in important ways from human language. Animals' cries are not articulate. This means, basically, that they lack structure. They lack, for example, the kind of structure given by the contrast between vowels and consonants. They also lack the kind of structure that enables us to divide a human utterance into words. We can change an utterance by replacing one word in it by another: a sentry can say `Tanks approaching from the north', or he can change one word and say 'Aircraft approaching from the north' or 'Tanks approaching from the west'; but a bird has a single indivisible alarm cry, which means `Danger!' This is why the number of signals that an animal can make is very limited: the Great Tit has about twenty different calls, whereas in human language the number of possible utterances is infinite. It also explains why animal cries are very general in meaning." (Barber, C.L., "The Story of Language," Pan: London, 1964, pp.8-9. Emphasis original).
This second quote is by the late Dennis B. Fry, who was Professor of Experimental Phonetics at University College London, and says that because of language man is unique, and "it is unlikely that anything will ever seriously shake our conviction that we belong to a very special class, separated by an unbridgeable gulf from the rest of the animals, a conviction no less strong today than it was in the eighteenth century":
"The label homo sapiens was first attached to man by Linnaeus in his classification of the animal kingdom over two hundred years ago. That kingdom is now thought to include over three-quarters of a million species, but no matter how many more may yet be discovered, it is unlikely that anything will ever seriously shake our conviction that we belong to a very special class, separated by an unbridgeable gulf from the rest of the animals, a conviction no less strong today than it was in the eighteenth century. The criteria on which Linnaeus's system was built were naturally physical in character but it is in the sphere of intelligence that man's superiority is generally reckoned to lie ... man remains marked off from all the types of organism by which he is surrounded, mainly through the capacity which his brain provides for conceptualizing the world about him. Because man can think about and recall experiences which are not present in the here and now, because he can operate upon the concepts that result from these processes and can act upon his thinking, his relation with his environment is, as far as we know, unique. ... Man's particular position in organic life on earth must be attributed largely to his use of speech and language and to his capacity for both concrete and abstract thought. ... But it is of course in the life of the human community rather than in that of the individual that speech and language play their major role. We can scarcely now imagine the condition of a human group totally lacking in any possibility of talk between its members. Talk means very much more than communication, for this we can observe going on among the birds and the bees; translated into human terms this would mean no more than the passing of information about a plentiful supply of nuts or the whereabouts of the next prey, the assertion of territorial rights or warning of the approach of the tribal enemy. A universe away from such matters is the variety of exchange represented by talk among people, with its myriad planes of intellectual, emotional and factual interchange which make up the infinitely complex web of social life. Without it human existence would be unrecognizably different. Man is above everything else the talking animal - homo loquens. The overwhelming majority of human beings spend a great deal of their time talking and listening to each other. They learned to do so during the first few years of life - and without paying the process much overt attention - and in consequence the whole activity of speech communication is carried on at a level where neither speaker nor listener is very much aware of the mechanics of the business. " (Fry, D.B., "Homo Loquens: Man as a Talking Animal," Cambridge University Press: Cambridge UK, 1977, pp.1-3) .
This third quote is by Philip Lieberman, Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Brown University, who says that "Human speech in itself is a distinct human attribute" which "involves our ability to perform acrobatic maneuvers with our tongues, lips, and larynx, controlled by brain mechanisms that don't exist in any other living species," nor in any extinct species, like "Neanderthal and Homo erectus"either, and indeed, despite Lieberman being a Darwinist, he admits that "we are the descendants of an Eve and an Adam, who most likely spoke and thought as we do"!:
"I Talk, Therefore I Am Put less cryptically, this book is about how we came to be; part of the answer is that speech and language shaped the evolution of our immediate ancestors, the first modern human beings. About 150,000 years ago, `modern' human beings appeared in Africa and the Mideast. These were people who had the tongues and mouths and, most important, the brain mechanisms that allow us to produce articulate speech and express complex thoughts. The superior brains of our ancestors, not their brawn, allowed them to displace the archaic human beings, the Neanderthal and Homo erectus populations, whom they encountered as they moved across Europe and Asia and to Australia. In short, Eve and Adam and their progeny prevailed because they talked. ... Human speech in itself is a distinct human attribute. It's clear that human beings are not stronger or more adaptable than other, competing species. Horses run faster, gorillas are stronger, bacteria adapt faster to different environments. Speech, language, and thought differentiate humans from other species. ... We humans seem to have evolved a special-purpose `language-thinking system' that allows us to think in abstract terms and rapidly communicate our thoughts to other people. The evolution of this system ... entailed the restructuring of anatomy originally adapted for eating, breathing, and making a limited number of sounds and modifications to the brain ... the end result of our particular distinctive evolutionary process was a capacity for thinking that had never existed before and that has changed the world to a form that also had never existed before. ... Producing human speech likewise involves our ability to perform acrobatic maneuvers with our tongues, lips, and larynx, controlled by brain mechanisms that don't exist in any other living species. .... . The `multiregional' theory of human evolution claims that modern humans evolved locally in different places and times from resident archaic populations. ... exponents of this theory often claim that there is no real functional distinction between modern human beings and Neanderthals, and that Neanderthals spoke as we do. Being at the center of the Neanderthal speech storm, I won't be taking a neutral position; I think the evidence shows that Neanderthals were very, very different from any living human beings. The Eve hypothesis is most likely correct; we are the descendants of an Eve and an Adam, who most likely spoke and thought as we do." (Lieberman, P, "Eve Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution," Picador: London, 1998, pp.xiii-xv. Emphasis original).
In future quotes on language I will make the connection between man's unique possession of language as part of his being made "in the image of God" (Gn 1:26-27; 5:1; 9:6) and the failure of Darwinian natural selection of random micromutations to explain the origin of language in man alone.
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
Genesis 32:1-2. 1Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is the camp of God!" So he named that place Mahanaim
Post a Comment