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A Sourcebook for the Worldwide Discovery of a Creative Organic Universe
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VI. Life’s Cerebral Faculties Become More Complex, Smarter, Informed, Proactive, Self-Aware

5. 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)

We analyze languages as having inventories of phonemes just because these units are re-used over and over in many different words. Given a massive vocabulary of tens of thousands of words, it is costly for each separate word form to be phonetically sui generis, memorized holistically. In every language there is a handful of expressive forms that resist representation as a sequence of the normal phonemes of the language. (492) The competing adaptive pressures leading to the emergence of small inventories of systematically re-usable segments are ease of articulation and mutual distinctiveness of words from each other. This evolutionary process can be seen as an instance of self-organization of a system in the environment provided by the phonetic apparatus and given the twin pressures just mentioned. (492)

Summarizing the evolutionary view of language structure, the human language capacity, especially the capacity for massive storage of constructions large and small, with greater or lesser flexibility and combinability, and the facility for recursively combining constructions fast during speech production, and disentangling them fast during speech perception, were selected because of the advantages of carrying propositional information. (498) The complex structures of individual languages evolved historically over many millennia through such processes as the self-organization we have seen in phonology and grammaticalization in syntax. (498)

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)

Kirby, Simon and Monica Tamariz. Cumulative cultural evolution, population structure and the origin of combinatoriality in human language. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. December, 2021. In this special Emergence of Collective Knowledge and Cumuulative Culture issue, University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh linguists post their latest views on how effective communication arose by way of an increasing ability of speakers to join utterances and their content in more complex, meaningful ways.

Language is the primary repository and mediator of human collective knowledge. A central question for evolutionary linguistics is the origin of the combinatorial design structure of language. We consider that combinatoriality is the inevitable result of learning biases in cultural transmission, and that population structure explains differences across languages. We employ Bayesian learning agents with a prior preference for compressible languages which communicate in pairs to reduce ambiguity. Results suggest that (1) combinatoriality emerges during iterated cultural transmission under concurrent pressures for simplicity and expressivity and (2) population dynamics affect the rate of evolution, which is faster when agents learn from other learners. (Abstract excerpt)

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.

In their Science as a Social Self-organizing Extended Cognitive System chapter, Robert Hristovsky, Natalia Balagué and Pablo Vázquez develop the idea that sciences are social self-organizing adaptive cognitive systems. They explain the rise of unifying themata in science overcoming the fragmentation of scientific language and illustrate the diversification and unification of scientific language with examples of different disciplines such as cosmology, chemistry, psychology and physics, among others. (8)

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)

Mehr, Samuel, et al. Origins of Music in Credible Signaling. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Online August, 2020. With some 300 references into the 20th century, Harvard, UCLA, and Washington State University (Edward Hagen) paleolinguists propose this latest clarification of how primate and hominin sing and sign fostered relative familial and communal communications. With a nod to Robin Dunbar and others, the vital presence of a nested scale of social groupings becomes evident. See Music as a Coevolved System for Social Bonding by Patrick Savage, et al in this journal issue.

How did music evolve? We show that prevailing views on the evolution of music are inadequate. We argue that music evolved as a credible signal in at least two contexts: coalitional interactions and infant care. Specifically, we propose that (1) the production and reception of coordinated, entrained rhythmic displays is a co-evolved system for credibly signaling coalition strength, size, and coordination ability; and (2) the production and reception of infant-directed song is a co-evolved system for credibly signaling parental attention to secondarily altricial infants. The adaptations provide a foundation for the cultural evolution of music in its actual domain, yielding the diversity of musical forms and musical behaviors found worldwide. (Abstract excerpt)

Mehr, Samuel, et al. University and Diversity in Human Song. Science. 366/eaao868, 2019. Some 19 researchers posted in the USA, Germany, and Canada including Stephen Pinker report upon a comprehensive, cross-cultural study of the past and present occasion of melodious communication, with and without words, which well confirms its personal and societal significance. See also a commentary The World in a Song by Tecumseh Fitch and Tudor Popescu in the same issue.

What is universal about music, and what varies? We built a corpus of ethnographic text on musical behavior from a representative sample of the world’s societies, as well as a discography of audio recordings. The ethnographic corpus reveals that music varies along three formality, arousal, and religiosity aspects, more within societies than across them; and that music is associated with behavioral contexts such as infant care, healing, dance, and love. In addition, acoustic features of tonality are almost universal; music varies in rhythmic and melodic complexity; and elements of melodies and rhythms found worldwide follow power laws. (Abstract excerpt)

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