VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
4. Organisms Evolve Rhythmic Protolanguage Communication
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)
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)
Prieur, Jacques, et al. The Origins of Gestures and Language. Biological Reviews. 95/3, 2020. Free University of Berlin and Normandie University paleolinguists advance understandings of the important role of early simian hand, eye and bodily motions as a form of rudimentary proto-language.
Investigating the deeper mechanisms of human and non‐human primate communication systems can shed light on the evolutionary roots of language. Reports on great apes suggest that gestures have been a crucial prerequisite for language. We review three processes that can explain this: phylogenetic ritualisation, ontogenetic ritualisation, and learning via social negotiation. Our scenario postulates that primates' communication is a complex trait shaped by a cost–benefit trade‐off of signal production in relation to four interlinked evolutionary and life cycle factors: species, individual and context‐related characteristics as well as behavioural characteristics. (Abstract excerpt)
Prieur, Jacques, et al. The Origins of Gestures and Language: History, Current Advances and Proposed Theories. Biological Reviews. Online December, 2019. Free University of Berlin and University of Rennes, CNRS animal ethologists scope out multimodal and multicausal influences for an array of primate forebears to reconstruct how our emergent result came to have such conversational facilities.
Investigating the mechanisms underlying human and non‐human primate communication systems (gestures, vocalisations, facial expressions) can shed light on the evolutionary roots of language. Reports on non‐human primates, particularly great apes, suggest that gestural communication would have been a crucial prerequisite for the emergence of language. We review three processes that can explain great apes' gestural acquisition: phylogenetic ritualisation, ontogenetic ritualisation, and learning via social negotiation. We thus propose a theory of language origins which postulates that primates' communicative signalling is a complex trait shaped by a cost–benefit trade‐off of signal production and processing of interactants in relation to four interlinked categories of evolutionary and life cycle factors: species, individual and context‐related characteristics as well as behavior. (Abstract excerpt)
Roeske, Tina. Multifractal Analysis Reveals Music-like Dynamic Structure in Songbird Rhythms. Nature Scientific Reports. 8/4570, 2018. MPI Empirical Aesthetics and Grinnell College behavioral neurobiologists apply the latest sophisticated analysis to find intrinsic mathematical patterns which suffuse and orchestrate melodious avian twitters. Once ever again, a universal self-similarity distinguish each instance and scale from cosmos to communications.
Music is thought to engage its listeners by driving feelings of surprise, tension, and relief through a dynamic mixture of predictable and unpredictable patterns, a property summarized here as “expressiveness”. Birdsong shares with music the goal to attract its listeners’ attention and might use similar strategies to achieve this. We here tested a thrush nightingale’s rhythm, as represented by song amplitude envelope (note timing, duration, and intensity), for evidence of expressiveness. We used multifractal analysis, which is designed to detect in a signal dynamic fluctuations between predictable and unpredictable states on multiple timescales. Results show that rhythm is strongly multifractal, which suggests that birdsong is more dynamic due to subtle note timing patterns, often similar to musical operations like accelerando or crescendo. (Abstract edits)
Saldana, Carmen. Compositional Hierarchical Structure Evolves through Cultural Transmission. Journal of Language Evolution. 4/2, 2019. University of Edinburgh linguists including Simon Kirby and Kenny Smith illuminate similar nested stages in both cases of evolutionary communication and human social conversation. In regard, still another glimpse of how this further phase of genomic and cerebral manifestation is achieved into the presence of this universal scale.
language learners to express and understand an infinity of meanings from finite sources (i.e., a lexicon and a grammar). Understanding how such structure evolved is central to evolutionary linguistics. Previous work combining artificial language learning and iterated learning techniques has shown how basic compositional structure can evolve from the trade-off between learnability and expressivity pressures in language transmission. In the present study we show how the same mechanisms involved in the evolution of basic compositionality can also result in a compositional hierarchical structure. (Abstract)
Searcy, William. Animal Communication, Cognition, and the Evolution of Language. Animal Behavior. Online April, 2019. An editorial introduction to a special issue with this title. As scientific realizations form that all manner of creatures from primates and birds onto invertebrate insects. See for example Evolutionary Roads to Syntax (Klaus Zuberbuhler), Rules, Rhythm and Grouping: Pattern Perception by Birds, Communication in Social Insects, and Syntactic Rules in Avian Vocal Sequences and the Evolution of Compositionality (Suzuki herein).
Smith, Andrew, et al, eds. The Evolution of Language. Singapore: World Scientific, 2010. The copious Proceedings of the 8th EVOLANG International Conference held in Utrecht, April 2010. This biannual gatherings is distinguished by presenters and commentators such as Eva Jablonka, Tecumseh Fitch, Merlin Donald, Nathalie Gontier, Michael Arbib, Kathleen Gibson, Derek Bickerton, and so on. Topics span genes, neurons, and cultures to a hominid “protolanguage” in gestural, musical, and lexical stages. Search Bouchard and Barnard for typical papers. What kind of cosmos, via its intended human phenomenon, might learn to speak, write, and read, so as to describe and narrate itself?
Steels, Luc and Eors Szathmary. The Evolutionary Dynamics of Language. BioSystems. Online November, 2017. The ICREA, Institut de Biologia Evolutiva informatics scientist and Parmenides Center for the Conceptual Foundations of Science, Munich theoretical biologist collaborate to achieve a unique insight about how linguistic forms and lore came to be. As the quotes convey, a similar apply of Darwinian cycles of candidate populations and selective retentions can just as well explain how speech, lexicons, grammar, and meaningful content evolved and developed. A further aspect is an avail of computational methods to trace and enhance an emergent intelligence. A universal evolutionism can also be applied to our definitive human trait to talk, write, read, and learn. See also Evolutionary Dynamics of Language Systems by Simon Greenhill, et al in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Online October, 2017).
The well-established framework of evolutionary dynamics can be applied to the fascinating open problems how human brains are able to acquire and adapt language and how languages change in a population. Schemas for handling grammatical constructions are the replicating unit. They emerge and multiply with variation in the brains of individuals and undergo selection based on their contribution to needed expressive power, communicative success and the reduction of cognitive effort. Adopting this perspective has two major benefits. (i) It makes a bridge to neurobiological models of the brain that have also adopted an evolutionary dynamics point of view, thus opening a new horizon for studying how human brains achieve the remarkably complex competence for language. And (ii) it suggests a new foundation for studying cultural language change as an evolutionary dynamics process. The paper sketches this novel perspective, provides references to empirical data and computational experiments, and points to open problems. (Abstract)
Suzuki, Toshitaka, et al. Syntactic Rules in Avian Vocal Sequences as a Window into the Evolution of Compositionality. Animal Behavior. Online April, 2019. In a special issue on Cognition and Language, University of Tokyo, Zurich, and Uppsala neurolinguists consider how birds achieve meaningful content and communication from their rhythmic twitters. An overall message might be that life’s long evolutionary development has altogether been trying to compose itself unto our late sapience expression and hopefully, if we can come to our individual and collective senses, reprise and recognition.
Understanding the origins and evolution of language remains a deep challenge, because its complexity and expressive power are unparalleled in the animal world. One of the key features of language is that the meaning of an expression is determined both by the meanings of its constituent parts and the syntactic rules used to combine them; known as the principle of compositionality. Although compositionality has been considered unique to language, recent field studies suggest that compositionality may have also evolved in vocal combinations in nonhuman animals. Here, we discuss how compositionality can be explored in animal communication systems and review recent evidence that birds use an ordering