Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 20:18:41 +0100 To: Evolution of Language <EvolutionLanguage@list.pitt.edu> Subject: Re: EvolLang: Language Evolution Model
Perhaps one mistake we've been making all along is thinking that
human language is for transmitting or recording knowledge.
That's what machine/computer language does. Comparing human
language with that immediately demonstrates how totally inadequate
it is for that task. Already de Saussure put a finger on this,
pointing out that logically one should expect what he called the
immutabilité de la signe, and then noting with puzzlement that
what we actually have is perpetual change.
Animal signalization is mainly concerned with regulating social relationships, and why should human language be any different? Every utterance in human language firstly establishes a social relationship. Whether or not it also conveys some information (other than that social signal) is optional. When an Englishman greets you, he isn't interested in knowing the state of your health, and a Polynesian would under the same circumstances be greatly surprised if you really did drop in as he litterally suggested. Analogically, telling a lady that her dress is very nice doesn't in the least betray a man's taste in haute couture, but his taste in women.
In my opinion, the complexity and variability of human language, as contrasted with the simplicity and rigidness of animal signalization, reflects the complexity of tasks of language in social regulation, resulting from the transition from a taxonomically given social structure in animals to the culturally variable social organization of humans. And insofar children sibling hierarchies played a role in the evolution of the latter, it would expactably also have played a role in the transition from animal signalization to human language.