6. How we became humans 3: Names for the things

 

What makes our species so special, compared to other ones?

We are the only kind of animals who have names for the things.

All group animals have their specific kind of communication; without communication you cannot be a group animal anyhow. But no kind of animals possesses names for the things.

How can I be so sure of this?

Well, having names for the things does something with an animal. With names for the things it can talk with its companions about everything, even things that aren’t on the spot, on a faraway place or in another season, in the future or in the past. He can consult and devise plans. If other kinds had names for the things, we would have perceived it for a long time.

But … (you are not convinced) the vervet monkeys, and the chimpanzees, and … ?

You are right, they have some special calls for special things. Chimps have even a call for meat, distinguishing from the call for fruit. However, a chimp can only utter those calls in reaction on seeing (or smelling) fruit or meat. Moreover, in such situations our chimp cannot withhold such a cry. Also, he cannot call [meat!] when he just wants a beef burger. In the next blog I will go further into the implications of names for the things for the mentality of an animal.

The discussion about man’s first language was already animated in the eighteenth century, and dominated the first meetings of the Société de Linguistique (found in 1864) of Paris. Most of the presented ideas, especially those that emphasized sign language as the first kind of language, earned scornful laughter and to maintain the serious character of the meetings, in 1866 the direction of the Société forbade further presentations about language origins. The taboo on this subject also held  Darwin back in his theorizing about language origins. Darwin’s authority long discouraged later theorizing, especially about sign language as the beginning of our linguistic competence. And even today by far most linguists, theorizing about language origins, neglect this possibility. Without or with poor argumentation. Poor knowledge of the character of sign languages is a hampering factor also.

Language origins is essentially a matter of speculation. So all theories will remain speculative. However, there are weak and strong speculations; the latter are based on strong arguments and elucidate most questions.

As I suggested: most of the modern linguists see language as speaking and the ape vocalizations as starting point of it. None of the scientists see the implications of names for the things for the mentality of an animal and poses the question why our ancestors became the masters of the animal world, and not one of the other kinds of apes or animals. As long as one cannot answer this question (nor even imagine this question), we have a weak speculation.

OK, let we go to the next post, for a strong one.

Leave a Reply

*

css.php