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VII. Our Earthuman Ascent: A Major Evolutionary Transition in Individuality

1. A Cultural (Geonome) Code : Systems Linguistics

Blythe, Richard. Symmetry and Universality in Language Change. arXiv:1508.05297. A paper by the University of Edinburgh physicist for the Flow Machines Workshop on Creativity and Universality in Language in Paris, June 2014. Once again several distinct aspects can be seen coming together. The corpus of human discourse in text and talk is here becomes another iconic exemplar of independent complex dynamic systems at their formative effect. As this natural literacy proceeds, as if a self-writing and reading genesis uniVerse one might add, common patterns repeatedly appear and iterate. As statistical, condensed matter physics morphs into a complexity science, our linguistic expression becomes one with and rooted in an innately literal cosmos.

We investigate mechanisms for language change within a framework where an unconventional signal for a meaning is first innovated, and then subsequently propagated through a speech community to replace the existing convention. We appeal to the notion of universality as it applies to complex interacting systems in the physical sciences and which establishes a link between generic ('universal') patterns at the macroscopic scale and relates them to symmetries at the microscopic scale. By relating the presence and absence of specific symmetries to fundamentally distinct mechanisms for language change at the level of individual speakers and speech acts, we are able to draw conclusions about which of these underlying mechanisms are most likely to be responsible for the changes that actually occur. Since these mechanisms are typically believed to be common to all speakers in all speech communities, this provides a means to relate universals in individual behaviour to language universals.

Bolhuis, Johan, et al. Twitter Evolution: Converging Mechanisms in Birdsong and Human Speech. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 11/11, 2010. As empowered by worldwide collaborations and sophisticated instrumentation, behavioral ornithologists Bolhuis, Utrecht University, with Kazuo Okanoya, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, and Constance Scharff, University of Berlin, for example, can gain novel insights into both avian and human communications, and the “striking parallels between the way infants learn to speak and birds learn to sing.” See also Berwick below, and the new book Birdsong, Speech, and Language: Exploring the Evolution of Mind and Brain Bolhuis, et al (MIT Press, April 2013). And in our retrospect, whom are we altogether to learn this and why? What song, score, or script, voice and vision, might a genesis uniVerse be trying to evoke through such a chorus?

From the 1960s onwards, birdsong researchers, more recently joined by biolinguists, have fleshed out his initial observations and discovered astonishing cognitive, neural and molecular parallels. After addressing the behavioural similarities in vocal learning between humans and songbirds, we will focus on three important parallels. First, the architecture and connectivity of avian and mammalian brains are much more similar than had been recognized previously. (747) We will review these developments, put them into an evolutionary context and discuss future prospects for the comparative analysis of birdsong, speech and language. Emerging common principles suggest that distant evolutionary lineages can evolve surprisingly similar behavioural, neural and molecular solutions for particular functions, as has been demonstrated previously for the evolution of vision and locomotion. (747)

Bouchard, Denis. From Neurons to Signs. Smith, Andrew, et al, eds. The Evolution of Language. Singapore: World Scientific, 2010. The University of Quebec linguist traces via epigenetic self-organized dynamics a recursive presence and passage from neuronal mutations to ever increasing capabilities to signify and represent syntactic meanings.

Once signs emerge, they quickly proliferate and self-organization kicks in, deriving the apparent complexity of language. As is the case of other biological systems, IRSs (intro-representational systems) are complemented by epigenetic self-organizing constraints which emerge from interactions of properties of building materials which limit adaptive scope and channel evolutionary patterns. (45)

Brand, C. O., et al. Analogy as a Catalyst for Cumulative Cultural Evolution. Trends in Cognitive Science. March, 2021. B and Alex Mesoudi, University of Exeter, with Paul Smaldino, UC Merced proceed to discern and emphasize how practical comparisons served as an effective way to make sense of variable environments. A long section is Analogies and the Acquisition of Complex Information. While the idea has been around for some time, here it is moved to a central place. In our regard, it works because everything in a natural ecosmos genesis is akin in an organic, familial way to everyone else. As alive, one, common genetic code informs and exemplifies everywhere.

Analogies, broadly defined, map novel concepts onto familiar concepts, making them essential for perception, reasoning, and communication. We argue that analogy-building served a critical role in the evolution of cumulative culture by allowing humans to learn and transmit complex behavioral sequences that would otherwise be cognitively difficult to acquire. The emergence of a protolanguage consisting of simple labels would have provided early humans with the abilities to build explicit analogies and to communicate them to others. This focus on analogy-building can shed new light on the coevolution of cognition and culture and addresses recent calls for better integration of the field of cultural evolution with cognitive science. (Abstract)

Briscoe, Ted, ed. Linguistic Evolution Through Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Humankind’s quest to reconstruct an evolutionary context for the emergence of language.

Bybee, Joan. Language, Usage and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. The University of New Mexico linguist advances the field’s complexity turn by which script and speech are gaining new understandings by virtue of the same discursive dynamics that grace social nature everywhere.

When linguistic structure is viewed as emergent from the repeated application of underlying processes, rather than given a priori or by design, then language can be seen as a complex adaptive system. The primary reason for viewing language as a complex adaptive system, that is, as being more like sand dunes than like a planned structure, such as a building, is that language exhibits a great deal of variation and gradience. (2)

Cangelosi, Angelo. The Emergence of Language: Neural and Adaptive Agent Models. Connection Science. 17/3-4, 2005. An introduction to a special issue on this topic with a noted array of authors such as Luc Steels, Brian MacWhinney, Stefano Nolfi, and Pierre-Yves Oudeyer. In addition to studies of evolutionary roots, properties of self-organization and emergence in neural nets, grammar, lexicons, and communication quality are covered.

Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi. Genes, Peoples, and Languages. New York: North Point Press, 2000. A new exposition by the Stanford University scientist who discovered that the historic course of human migrations can be tracked by parallel divergences in both genes and dialects.

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind: Current Thoughts on Ancient Problems. Jenkins, Lyle, ed. Variation and Universals in Biolinguistics. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004. A good summary by the esteemed linguist whose theories of an innate propensity for language has infused their study for decades. While a wide diversity of tongues surely exists, Chomsky argues they each arise from and reflect a single, universal theme.

Christiansen, Morten and Nick Chater. Connectionist Natural Language Processing. Cognitive Science. 23/4, 1999. An introduction to a special issue which explores how dynamical theories can describe the self-organizing, network properties of language in order to complement an older symbol-based approach. And as such it takes on the appearance of a complex adaptive system.

Christiansen, Morten and Nick Chater, eds. Connectionist Psycholinguistics. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing, 2001. Cognitive science approaches such as parallel distributed processes and neural networks are helping explain the occasion of language and its learned usage.

This application of dynamical systems ideas is part of a larger movement within cognitive science which seeks to understand cognition in dynamical terms. (7) The potential implications of a realistic connectionist approach to language processing are enormous. If realistic connectionist models of language processing can be provided, then the possibility of a radical rethinking not just of the nature of language processing, but of the structure of language itself, may be required. (13)

Christiansen, Morten and Simon Kirby, eds. Language Evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. A definitive survey ranging from “Language as an Adaptation to the Cognitive Niche” by Steven Pinker to the linguistic theories of Derek Bickerton, primate influences as seen by Michael Tomasello, a universal grammar and semiotics by Terrence Deacon and on to gestural, anatomical, cultural effects. The consensus is that only a broad array of approaches can explain the occasion of spoken communication, clearly a worldwide task.

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