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VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

5. Organisms Evolve Rhythmic Protolanguage Communication

Goldin-Meadow, Susan and Charles Yang. Statistical Evidence that a Child can Create a Combinatorial Linguistic System without External Linguistic Input. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 81/B, 2017. University of Chicago and University of Pennsylvania psychologists study youngsters with impaired hearing to investigate if languages occur by happenstance, or arise from a universal source. Indeed, the presence of an innate “productive grammar” is once more confirmed. In so doing, a tacit recapitulation between childhood and hominid to human cultures is suggested.

Can a child who is not exposed to a model for language nevertheless construct a communication system characterized by combinatorial structure? We know that deaf children whose hearing losses prevent them from acquiring spoken language, and whose hearing parents have not exposed them to sign language, use gestures, called homesigns, to communicate. In this study, we call upon a new formal analysis that characterizes the statistical profile of grammatical rules and, when applied to child language data, finds that young children’s language is consistent with a productive grammar rather than rote memorization of specific word combinations in caregiver speech. Our findings thus provide evidence that a child can create a combinatorial linguistic system without external linguistic input. (Abstract excerpt)

Gontier, Nathalie. Defining Communication and Language from a Pluralistic Evolutionary Worldview. Topoi. 41/3, 2022. In this special issue (Gontier) the University of Lisbon polyscholar (herein and website) continues to provide a conceptual basis and innovative lead for these broad fields of study. At present, a global humankind sapience reflects back to wonder and retrace the steps and paths to informative speech, many dialects, cumulative content, and growing repositories on the way to our hopeful worldwide edification.

New definitions are proposed for communication and language as the evolution of physical, biochemical, cellular, community, and technological information exchange. Language then becomes a social discourse whereby such conversations comprise individual and group-constructed knowledge and beliefs. These results are enacted, narrated, and conveyed by rule-based symbol systems grounded, and interpreted within embodied, cognitive, ecological, and sociocultural niches. In contrast to older versions, the sense proposed here makes up a pluralistic evolutionary worldview that allows a multitude of units, levels, mechanisms and processes which further bring forth communication and language. (Abstract)

Gontier, Nathalie. What are the Levels and Mechanisms/Processes of Language Evolution? Languages Sciences. 63/12, 2017. The University of Lisbon philosopher of science continues her mission (search) to formulate a theoretical basis for a universal Darwinism by way of an Applied Evolutionary Epistemology. With notice of the Extended Synthesis project, in this entry this later phase of linguistic communication is considered. What might the salient genetic, cognitive, behavioral units be, and how they could be arrayed into nested hierarchical scales? See also her What are the Units of Language Evolution? in Topoi: An International Review of Philosophy (August 2017).

Modern evolutionary biology is currently characterized by epistemological divergence because, beyond organisms and genes, scholars nowadays investigate a plurality of units of evolution, they recognize multilevel selection, and especially from within the Extended Synthesis, scholars have identified a plurality of evolutionary mechanisms that besides natural selection can explain how the evolution of anatomical form and functional behavior occur. Evolutionary linguists have also implicated a multitude of units, levels and mechanisms involved in (aspects of) language evolution, which has also brought forth epistemological divergence on how language possibly evolved. Here, we examine how a general evolutionary methodology can become abstracted from how biologists study evolution, and how this methodology can become implemented into the field of Evolutionary Linguistics. Applied Evolutionary Epistemology (AEE) involves a systematic search and analysis of the units (that what evolves), levels (loci where evolution takes place), and mechanisms (means whereby evolution occurs) of language evolution, allocating them into ontological hierarchies, and distinguishing them from other kinds of evolution. (Abstract)

Griesser, Michael, et al. From Bird Calls to Human Language: Exploring the Evolutionary Drivers of Compositional Syntax. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences. 21/6, 2018. In this language issue, Jagiellonian University, Uppsala University, and Kyoto University animal ecologists add further proof of recurrent similarities across widely separate species. Bird and human brains are seen to quite converge in both function and communication.

Gyori, Gabor, ed. Language Evolution: Biological, Linguistic and Philosophical Perspectives. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2001. A selection of papers from meetings of the Language Origins Society which cover three areas of language evolution: its resultant structure, function and communication, and the views of philosophers on these subjects. A typical paper is “Symbolic Cognition” by Gyori which discusses the phylogenetic, ontogenetic and cognitive development of knowledge.

Hagoort, Peter, ed. Human Language: From Genes and Brains to Behavior. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2019. The MPI Psycholinguistics director and mentor gathers 49 authoritative chapters into eight sections: Cognitive Architectures, The Development of Language, Communication Before and With Language, Modeling Language, Functional Meurobiology of Language, Neuroanatomy of Language,The Genetics of Language, and Animal Models of Language. We note for example The Genetic Bases of Brain Lateralization by Clyde Francks, Mental Representations for Language by Ray Jackendorf, and The Comparative Approach to the Biology and Evolution of Language by Tecumseh Fitch. A consummate volume about the past and present appearance of creaturely and human articulation as a genesis ecosmos tries to gain its communicative voice and informed, perceptive vision.

Hartmann, Stefan and Michael Pleyer. Constructing a Protolanguage: Prehistoric Languages in a User-based Grammar Framework. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Volume 1824, March, 2021. As the Abstract alludes, University of Dusseldorf and Copernicus University, Poland paleolinguists consider modes and pathways by which hominid lineages became able to talk and inform each other. Sections include Ontogenetic, Diachronic and Phylogenetic Timescales.

Construction grammar is an approach to language whereby units and forms in language can be described as tighter or looser pairings between context and meaning. This approach has been applied research areas in linguistics, such as how new arrangements emerge and change historically. It has also been applied to the evolutionary emergence of modern language, i.e. the question of how systems of constructions can arise out of prelinguistic communication. In this paper, we review how usage-based grammars effect language change and language evolution with regard to how they arose out of non-linguistic or protolinguistic communication. (Abstract excerpt))

Hodge, Bob and Lorena Caballero. Biology, Semiotics, Complexity: An Experiment in Interdisciplinarity. Semiotica. 157/1-4, 2005. As evolution and development reconverge, the discovery of the same homeobox genes at regulatory work in every organism suggest a deep homology between the study of signification and molecular program. In a universe most distinguished by such an informational quality, an inherent fractal self-similarity can be noted between language and life. See also Hodge’s paper in Social Semiotics (13/3, 2002).

Looking at disciplinarity in these two areas, biology and semiotics, we propose a preliminary hypothesis. The pattern of similar but not identical configurations, at different levels and across sometime very disparate areas, has the characteristics of fractality. If these taxonomies are similar to each other and to taxonomies developed to organize the species and higher orders of the biota, as we have also suggested, this raises a crucial question. Are we dealing here with merely an analogy? Or is there a deeper basis? (487)

Hoeschele, Marisa. Preface to the Special Section on Animal Music Perception. Comparative Cognition and Behavior. Volume 12, 2017. As scientific, psychological and linguistic studies find that all kinds of creatures, aided by online videos from corvids to elephants, indeed have an ear for and dance to musical rhythms, a field of study has formed around it, search Honing. Some papers are Relation Chord Perception by Pigeons, Consonance Processing by Nonhuman Animals, and Animal Pitch Perception. In regard, these findings of music appreciation across the evolutionary spectrum, along with communicative skills.

Honing, Henkjan, ed. The Origins of Musicality. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2018. The University of Amsterdam linguist edits a follow up volume to a Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B issue (Vol.370/Iss.1664, 2015) on realizations that a wide array of creatures indeed possess a deep propensity for all manner of rhythmic harmonies. Some chapters are Neural Overlap in Processing Music and Speech, Structure Building in Music, Language, and Animal Song, and Searching for the Origins of Musicality across Species.

Honing, Henkjan, et al. Without It No Music: Cognition, Biology and Evolution of Musicality. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Vol.370/Iss.1664, 2015. HH, University of Amsterdam, Carel ten Cate, Leiden University, Isabelle Peretz, Montreal University, and Sandra Trehub, University of Toronto introduce an issue to broadly consider innate animal sensitivities to beat, pitch, and rhythm. The project is said to be inspired by YouTube videos of birds dancing to rock tunes, which revealed unexpected eabilities. Some entries are Four Principles of Bio-Musicality by Tecumseh Fitch, a guiding scholar for the endeavor, Evolutionary Roots of Creativity, Principles of Structure Building in Music Language and Animal Song, Finding the Beat across Humans and Non-human Primates, and Cross-cultural Perspectives on Music and Musicality. Follow-up editions are a 2018 volume The Origins of Musicality edited by H. Honing, reviewed herein, and Honing’s own The Evolving Animal Orchestra: In Search of What Makes Us Musical (MIT Press, 2018).

Musicality can be defined as a natural, spontaneously developing trait based on and constrained by biology and cognition. What biological and cognitive mechanisms are then essential for perceiving, appreciating and making music? We argue for the importance of identifying these mechanisms and delineating their functions and developmental course, as well as suggesting effective means of studying them in human and non-human animals. It is virtually impossible to underpin the evolutionary role of musicality as a whole, but a multicomponent perspective on musicality that emphasizes its constituent capacities, development and neural cognitive specificity is an excellent starting point for a research programme aimed at illuminating the origins and evolution of musical behaviour as an autonomous trait. (Abstract excerpt)

Huang, Mingpan, et al. Male Gibbon Loud Morning Calls Conform to Zipf’s Law of Brevity and Menserath’s Law: Insights into the Origin of Human Language. Animal Behavior. January, 2020. This entry by Sun Yat-Sen University linguists is notable because it reports how these lawful features similarly serve to guide these vocal displays amongst primates. Such a result suggests that they commonly apply across all manner of creaturely communications. See also The Speech-like Properties of Nonhuman Primate Vocalizations by Thore Bergman, et al in this journal (151/229, 2019).

The study of vocal communication in nonhuman primates offers critical insight into the origins of human language. Although human language represents a highly derived and complex form of communication, researchers have found that the organization of language follows a series of common statistical patterns, known as ‘linguistic laws’. Zipf's law of brevity and Menzerath's law are pervasive (see below). Here, we provide evidence that the long-distance morning calls of male gibbons follow both laws. Zipf's law of brevity and Menzerath's law. Our findings thus support the generality of these two linguistic laws.. (Abstract)

Zipf's law is an empirical law which uses mathematical statistics to refer to the fact that much data studied in the physical and social sciences can be approximated by a family of related discrete power law probability distributions. Menzerath's law is a linguistic law whence the increase of the size of a linguistic construct results in a decrease of the size of its constituents, and vice versa, e.g., the longer a sentence, the shorter the clauses.

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