VI. Earth Life Emergence: Development of Body, Brain, Selves and Societies
4. Organisms Evolve Rhythmic Protolanguage Communication
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)
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
Tomlinson, Gary. A Million Years of Music. New York: Zone Books, 2015. The Yale University professor of music and the humanities retraces how primates and hominids came to and communicated by rhythmic compositions, broadly conceived, before all manner of linguistic utterances began. Once again an original propensity for prosodic, communicative intonations is identified to have arisen first.
What is the origin of music? In the last few decades this question has been reinvigorated by new archaeological evidence and the fields of cognitive science, linguistics, and evolutionary theory. Starting at a period of human prehistory before Homo sapiens or music, Tomlinson describes the incremental attainments that led to musical gestures and soundings. He traces in Neandertals and early sapiens the accumulation and development of these capacities, and their coalescence into modern musical behavior across the last hundred millennia. Tomlinson builds a model of human evolution that revises our understanding of the interaction of biology and culture across evolutionary time-scales, enriching current models of our deep history. He draws in other emerging human traits: language, symbolism, a metaphysical imagination and complex social structure, and the use of advanced technologies.
Townsend, Simon, et al. Compositionality in Animals and Humans. PLoS Biology. August, 2018. Comparable, relative degrees of intelligence have now become attributed to all manner of creatures, so as to form a deep continuity. Here University of Zurich and University of Neuchatel, Switzerland linguists further find evidence for a long continuum of communicative abilities. See also Call Combinations in Birds and the Evolution of Compositional Syntax by T. Suzuki, et al in this issue.
A key step in understanding the evolution of human language involves unraveling the origins of syntactic structure. One approach seeks to reduce the core of syntax in humans to a single principle of recursive combination for which seems absent in other species. We argue for an alternative approach. We review evidence that beneath the complexity of human syntax, there is an extensive layer of nonproductive, nonhierarchical syntax that can be fruitfully compared to animal call combinations. This is an essential groundwork to explore and integrate before we can sufficiently elucidate what made it possible for human language to explode its syntactic capacity, transitioning from simple nonproductive combinations to the loquacious complexity that we now have. (Abstract edits)