VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
4. Organisms Evolve Rhythmic Protolanguage Communication
Hurford, James. Linguistics from an Evolutionary Point of View. Kempson, Ruth, et al, eds. Philosophy of Linguistics. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2012. Volume 14 in a Handbook of the Philosophy of Science series. The emeritus University of Edinburgh linguist and co-founder with Simon Kirby of its Language, Evolution and Computation unit pens an encyclopedia entry which per the quotes advances these findings. A valid recapitulation can be cited between each child and how primates came to speak. In retrospect languages are composed of core segments or modules which array into lexicons and dialogue. In this regard, it is worth citing The Music of Life by geneticist Denis Noble (search), where it is noted that genomes, lyrical scores, and Chinese ideographs are similarly composed of a few prime cases, e.g. basic gene regulatory networks, from which diversities flow. And thirdly, this grand evolutionary production seems to organize, write, score, read, and play itself.
The most widely discussed adaptation for speech is the lowering of the larynx. In all other mammals the normal position of the larynx is close up behind where the nasal passage joins the oral passage, just behind the velum. This is also the position of the larynx in newborn human infants, which allows them to breathe and suckle at the same time. During the first half year of life the human larynx lowers to near its later adult position. In this way ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, as the adult human larynx has lowered in our evolution from apes. (490)
Kenneally, Christine. Talking through Time: The Role of Knowledge. Scientific American. September, 2018. In an issue on The Science of Being Human, a science journalist and author of The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language (2007) makes a case for an ancient, evolutionary heritage and course for linguistic and communicative abilities, broadly conceived, as now manifest in our loquacious sapience.
Findings from genetics, cognitive science and brain sciences are now converging in a different place. It looks like language is not a brilliant adaptation. Nor is it encoded in the human genome or the inevitable output of our superior human brains. Instead language grows out of a platform of abilities, some of which are very ancient and shared with other animals and only some of which are more modern. (57)
Khatami, Fatemeh, et al. Origins of Scale Invariance in Vocalization Sequences and Speech. PLoS Computational Biology. April, 2018. University of Connecticut and University of Marburg, Germany behavioral and biomedical psychologists describe how even our conversations array into self-similar scales which afford their communicative expression. This late year, if to peruse, from interstellar media (Andre Maeder) to social media a common finding appears in our midst that nature (as traditional wisdom long averred) draws upon and repeats one same iconic, archetypal pattern and process in every exemplary instance.
The efficient coding hypothesis posits that the brain encodes sensory signals efficiently in order to reduce metabolic cost and preserve behaviorally relevant environment information. A widely observed statistical regularity in nearly all natural sounds is the presence of scale invariance where the power of amplitude fluctuations is inversely related to the sound amplitude modulation frequency. In this study, we explore the physical sound cues responsible for the scale invariant phenomenon previously observed. We demonstrate that for animal vocalizations, including human speech, the scale invariant behavior is fully accounted by the presence of temporal acoustic edges that are largely created by opening and closing of the oral cavity and which mark the beginning and end of isolated vocalizations. The findings thus identify a single physical cue responsible for the universal scale invariant phenomenon that the brain can exploit to optimize coding and perception of vocalized sounds. (Author Summary)
Kirby, Simon. Transitions: The Evolution of Linguistic Replicators. Binder, Phillippe and Kenny Smith, eds. The Language Phenomenon: Human Communication from Milliseconds to Millennia. Berlin: Springer, 2013. In this unique volume, the University of Edinburgh chair of language evolution turns to the major transitions scale to situate human linguistic competence within its prior sequential emergence. Eight stages from replicating biomolecules to human societies are each arise due to a novel informative venue as “new ways of communicative transmission.” This persistent temporal context can then expand appreciations of our sapient literacy. In linguistic terms, a better sense of compositionality, holophrastic utterances, and iterated learning is thus gained. For an update survey, see The Emergence of Verse Templates Through Iterated Learning by SK, et al in the Journal of Language Evolution (4/1, 2019).
Maynard Smith & Szathmáry’s (1995) work provides a rich framework for thinking about replication. They themselves identified the importance of language in this light, but language is a new system of replication in more than one sense: it is both an enabler of cultural replicators with unlimited heredity, and also a new kind of evolutionary system itself. Iterated learning is the process of linguistic transmission, and it drives both language change and the transitions to qualitatively new kinds of linguistic system. By seeing language as an evolutionary system, the biggest payoff we get may be the ability to take biologists’ insights into the evolution of life and apply them to the evolution of language. (135)
Langus, Alan, et al. Rhythm in Language Acquisition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 81/B, 2017. Akin to a prosody flow between objects and words being newly integrated into bicameral brain function, here SISSA International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste linguists AL, Jacques Mehler, and Marina Nespor (see each website) show how “universal rhythmic principles” serve to initially guide infants and young language learners across a wide array of ethnic dialects. In so doing, it is alluded that an independent source seems in effect during this “ontogenetic emergence.”
Spoken language is governed by rhythm. Linguistic rhythm is hierarchical and the rhythmic hierarchy partially mimics the prosodic as well as the morpho-syntactic hierarchy of spoken language. We identify three universal levels of linguistic rhythm – the segmental level, the level of the metrical feet and the phonological phrase level – and discuss why primary lexical stress is not rhythmic. We survey experimental evidence on rhythm perception in young infants and native speakers of various languages to determine the properties of linguistic rhythm that are present at birth, those that mature during the first year of life and those that are shaped by the linguistic environment of language learners. We conclude with a discussion of the major gaps in current knowledge on linguistic rhythm and highlight areas of interest for future research that are most likely to yield significant insights into the nature, the perception, and the usefulness of linguistic rhythm. (Abstract)
Lyon, Caroline, et al, eds. Emergence of Communication and Language. London: Springer, 2007. Co-editors are Chrystopher Nehaniv and Angelo Cangelosi. A large state of the art volume as authorities such as Alison Wray, Tecumseh Fitch, Luc Steels, Eors Szathmary, and many others seek to articulate how cerebral life learned to speak, convey, express, and remember.
Ma, Weiyi, et al. Spontaneous Emergence of Language-like and Music-like Vocalizations from an Artificial Protolanguage. Semiotica. Online April, 2019. Behavioral linguists WM, University of Arkansas, Anna Fiveash, University of Lyon, France, and William Forde Thompson, Macquarie University, Sydney experimentally show how cognitive streams innately tend to divide into dual language-like and prosodic musical modes. By a different approach and measure, once again neural nature seems to ever seek these distinctive, reciprocal script and/or score phases, which altogether compose life’s dramatic dance.
How did human vocalizations come to acquire meaning in the evolution of our species? Charles Darwin proposed that language and music originated from a common emotional signal system based on the imitation and modification of sounds in nature. This protolanguage is thought to have diverged into two separate systems, with speech prioritizing referential functionality and music prioritizing emotional functionality. However, there has never been an attempt to empirically evaluate the hypothesis that a single communication system can split into two functionally distinct systems that are characterized by music- and language like properties. Here, we demonstrate that when referential and emotional functions are introduced into an artificial communication system, that system will diverge into vocalization forms with speech- and music-like properties, respectively. (Abstract)
Massip-Bonet, Angels, et al, eds. Complexity Applications in Language and Communication Sciences. International: Springer,, 2019. Systems linguists A M-B and Albert Bastardas-Boada, University of Barcelona, and Gemma Bel-Enguix, National Autonomous University of Mexico (search each) gather diverse essays about how to perceive human conversant and literary discourse as a complex adaptive, self-organizing network similar to everywhere else. Their Introduction reviews this scientific and conceptual advance through the 2010s as it grows in breath and veracity. Again we may note that by turns, an inherent textual quality across natural and social realms becomes evident. Sample chapters could be The Paradigm of Complexity in Sociology, How and Why to Model the Complexity of Thought Systems, and Amazing Grace: An Analysis of Barack Obama’s Raciolinguistic Performances.
This book offers insights on the study of natural language as a complex adaptive system. It discusses a new way to tackle the problem of language modeling, and provides clues on how the close relation between natural language and some biological structures can be very fruitful for science. The book examines the theoretical framework and then applies its main principles to various areas of linguistics. It discusses applications in language contact, language change, diachronic linguistics, and the potential enhancement of classical approaches to historical linguistics by means of new methodologies used in physics, biology, and agent systems theory. It shows how studying language evolution and change using computational simulations enables to integrate social structures in the evolution of language, and how this can give rise to a new way to approach sociolinguistics.
McElreath, Richard. The Coevolution of Genes, Innovation, and Culture in Human Evolution. Kappeler, Peter and Joan Silk, eds. Mind the Gap. Berlin: Springer, 2010. The whole book is reviewed in Homo Sapiens. The University of California, Davis, anthropologist presses the thesis that the molecular genetic program and public informational knowledge are in fact similar in kind and instructional result. By these lights, life’s evolutionary development can appear as one grand learning process, lately rising to its collaborative, cumulative societal phase. Human beings, by drawing upon external repositories, are able to keep it going by appropriate innovative creativity. View the author’s publications at http://xcelab.net/rm/?page_id=12 for more papers about such “heuristics” of problem solving and better living.
In light of these plausible (genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, symbolic) “inheritance systems," it appears that human culture may not be so special or surprising at all, in the sense of being a non- genetic system of inheritance. Organisms as diverse as Arabidopsis (a small plant related to mustard that is a favorite of geneticists), common fruit ies and single-celled microscopic animals such as paramecia exhibit heritable differences due at least in part to mechanisms other than the sequence of nucleotides in their DNA. The existence of social learning as a system of inheritance and adaptation that functions in complement to DNA may turn out to be unremarkable. (459)
Oller, D. Kimbrough and Ulrike Griebel, eds. Evolution of Communication Systems. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004. A broad survey of how animal signals evolved into primate and hominid cries and chatter, from which arose human linguistic representations. Philosophy, theory, and method for the project are considered along with attention to primitive vocal or symbolic modes of discourse and societal contexts. A good entry to the players – Irene Pepperberg, Morten Christiansen, Luc Steels, Peter Gardenfors, Ruth Garrett Millikan, Richard Dunbar and colleagues. From a humankind vista, the long course of a developmental evolution appears as a grand learning and naming experience, by which the universe may gain its voice and self-expression.
Pellegrino, Francois, et al, eds. Approaches to Phonological Complexity. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2009. A typical chapter such as “Scale-Free Networks in Phonological and Orthographic Wordform Lexicons” by Christopher Kello and Brandon Beltz traces a regnant pathway from thermodynamic and statistical mechanic realms to human dynamical conversation and textual discourse. How might we then imagine this long course as a cosmic genetic code rising to its own voice, cognizance and personhood?
Complexity approaches, developed in physics and biology for almost two decades, show today a huge potential for investigating challenging issues in Humanities and Cognitive Sciences and obviously in the study of language(s). Theoretical approaches that integrate self-organization, emergence, non linearity, adaptive systems, information theory, etc., have already been developed to provide a unifying framework that sheds new light on the duality between linguistic diversity on the one hand and unique cognitive capacity of language processing on the other hand. (Publisher’s website)
Prather, Jonathan, et al. Brains for Birds and Babies: Neural Parallel between Birdsong and Speech Acquisition. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. 81/B, 2017. Akin to Prosody in Birdsong by Carien Mol, et al, in this issue (Abstract below), University of Wyoming, University of Tokyo, and Utrecht University (quite global) find deep commonalities from avian to sapient classes. As the quotes note, similar lateral, asymmetric divisions, periodic syntax, melodious meanings and more are present in these widely separate entities. An “evolutionary convergence” of “behavioral parallels between birdsong learning and speech acquisition” are seen to suggest a basic, independent source. And as in many such papers, a recapitulative theme courses through.
Language as a computational cognitive mechanism appears to be unique to the human species. Here we review important neural parallels between birdsong and speech. In both cases there are separate but continually interacting neural networks that underlie vocal production, sensorimotor learning, and auditory perception and memory. As in the case of human speech, neural activity related to birdsong learning is lateralized, and mirror neurons linking perception and performance may contribute to sensorimotor learning. In songbirds that are learning their songs, there is continual interaction between secondary auditory regions and sensorimotor regions, similar to the interaction between Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas in human infants acquiring speech and language. (Prather abstract excerpt)