8. What is so special about linguisticness?

Our earliest ancestors were apes: normal animals. Now we are humans. A very, very special kind of animals: all that horrible predators such as lions and hyenas are now attractions in our zoos and nowhere it is vice versa. We are communicating via Windows Live Writer: no other animal does. We are abnormal animals What made us abnormal animals? Linguisticness.

It started with nothing. OK, it started with a stupid girls play: imitating/communicating with your hands something what is an image (idea)  in your mind.

An incidental new habit … a huge step towards becoming human! This was a totally new phenomenon in the history of life on earth. All group animals have their own means of communication. But in no other species can individuals communicate about something beyond their awareness, about something in another place, in another season, in the past or in the future. These gesture-imitations of things by our ancestor-bonobos were (the beginnings of) names for the things, enabling them to communicate on a new level.

Once an animal can name things, something special happens at the mental level. This is not only a better means for communication and cooperation. It is not only a way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the following, thus building up a reservoir of knowledge in the entire population. It also is the creation of a (feeling of) distance between the namer and the named thing, the creation (or experience) of distance between a creature and his environment. This was something entirely new in the history of life: a creature that was no longer totally dependent on his environment, a creature that could objectify things in his environment.

One might also see this as a parallel to the professionalizing of the ape’s ability of throwing, which furnished a distance between the thrower and the object: only this time in the mental sphere. Throwing  enables to keeping the predator at bay; naming enables to grasping the predator,  mentally. This supplies a feeling of power over the object, even – or just – when you are not powerful. This new faculty set our species apart from the animal world. It defines humanity. So we have to find a name for this characteristic. We choose linguisticness.

The term linguisticness is coined by the philosopher Heidegger, as English for his Sprachlichleit. But Heidegger was an idealistic philosopher, and deserved a scientific view on humanness. This missed the hermeneutic philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) either, but from his ‘magnum opus’ Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode) we derive its useful definition of linguisticness. We read in the chapter Seinsverfassung: “Linguisticness characterizes our human world-experience” … and the exercize of “the wirkungsgeschichtliche Bewusstsein”. We adopt this hermeneutic term and give it a humanosophic (and more comprehensible) content!

The road to linguisticness started ex nihilo (such as the Big Bang?), but I think it started from the very beginning. Because the need for more communication existed from the beginning, and the free hands with those ten fingers were available from the beginning. It started from nothing and it started slowly, like all developments in nature, like the beginning of life itself on earth.[1]

It started incidentally, with a single gestured imitation. But it proved to be a useful habit in a world which demanded better communication. So it grew quickly into ever more names for ever more things. Our ancestral tribe became an entirely new kind of animal in nature, a species with more flexibility and inventiveness than all others, even than other hominid populations whose groups remained without such a cultural habit of communication. Around the time of ‘the great jump’ of our species, ca 2.5 million years ago, all other hominids got extinct. Hominids is the name palaeontologists give to bipedal apes of the Mio-Pliocene period (Pliocene is 5 – 1.4 million years ago and Miocene is the preceding era). The common name for these Pliocene hominids is Australopithecus.

Our ancestor-australopiths developed more flexibility and inventiveness than other animals and even than other australopiths. Why? This was the result of the power of consultation and conference with one another. Two know more than one, and as a group you can solve big problems. One hooligan may be a timid boy, but as a group, hooligans are terrifying. It is the stack-up of inventiveness. Australopith groups without this facility of conferring with each another – boisei, robustus, aethiopicus, even afarensis– died out, presumably with some help of the ancestor-australopiths, the ‘hooligans’ of the Pliocene savannah. Abnormal animals! Linguistic apes!


[1] For three billion years, there was nothing to see – there weren’t eyes anyway; only the sky turned from brown into blue. And then: whoops! – from 500 million years ago on, little worms and crabs and fishes, plants and amphibians on the land, reptiles, dinosaurs and mammals, apes, us.

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