Date: Fri, 5 Dec 1997 17:39:26 +0100
Subject: Re: EvolLang: Re: Language Evolution Model

>From: "Larry"
> >... The circumstance that human language is in a constant state of
> >change, no matter how slow, rather than being constant, remains
> >unexplained, if one assumes transmission of knowledge to be its
> >primary function.
> The logic here eludes me. Isn't the following plausible situation a
> counterexample.  Language changes at a rate that allows mutual
> intelligibility over, say, 8 generations.  Then there is no
> disadvantage in terms of the transmission of knowledge, since all
> sources of knowledge can be understood by all potential receivers of
> knowledge.
Well, the logic of the situation as I perceived it was: Language change at any rate excludes free mutual intelligibility over 8 generations, UNLESS the ability to use language is complemented with such an ADDITIONAL ability to cope with language change, that mutual intelligibility can still be maintained EVEN over 8 generations INSPITE of language change....
You are merely taking for granted, that language change automatically includes the capability of comprehensing changed language. Facts from the non-human part of the animal world show that this is not at all automatic. In some non-human systems of communication change leads to formation of mutually unintelligible dialects.
> I am *not* trying to argue that "transmission of knowledge" is *the*
> "natural-selection steering factor behind evolution of knowledge."
> I would not want to (for one thing, because of my suspicion of
> monocausal explanation of such complex events as language evolution).
> I'm simply pointing out that the facts of language change cited above
> do not rule that out.
I'm still missing a realistic scenario for an evolution from non-changing animal vocalization to continuously changing human language which would include development of use of language for transmission of knowledge as integral part of that evolution. Any scenario I could visualize, that would seem realistic to me, only allows for the latter use of language not before a certain relatively advanced level of sophistication had already been reached.

In addition to that, I would like to add (I think this has already been brought forward in various ways by others), that language even among us sapiens sapiens is only seldom used to transmit knowledge. Please don't forget that we intellectuals are an untypical minority, and that not all too long ago, we still formed an infinitessimally minor minority. In primitive society, the shaman was the sole "intellectual". Even with all the educational and informational efforts of industrial society, at best half of the pupils and students understand what teachers and lecturers are trying to tell them, and a much much smaller fraction of the population understands what serious news media are trying to inform it about (one reason why tabloids are so much more successful).

In pre-industrial society, one mainly spoke for the sake of speaking, only very rarely for the sake of conveying knowledge. Even today, we speak only too often just for the sake of speaking, and when we don't know what to speak about (it's really not important), there's always the weather and one's health.... And just for the sake of creating opportunities for "speaking" (no matter about what) we set up canasta or bridge parties, arrange to meet one another at the bowling alley, the pub, the laundry parlour, or organize meetings which in Britain are (or used to be?) quite appropriately called _functions_, where some poor bloke(s) will get singled out to stand up in front and deliver what is known as a _speech_ (alternatively _address_, _report_, ...) which typically serves as excuse for the whole gathering. Sometimes they ask an artist to hang up some pictures on the wall to serve as such an excuse.... I am of course quite aware of what these meetings are "supposed" to be for. I am merely alluding to what at least half, usually a much greater fraction of those involved "really" experience the meetings as being all about: an opportunity to speak (sometimes the situation of being compelled to speak).

When a person is deprived of being regularly spoken to, this typically leads to mental depression, and speech is one effective therapy against depression and certain mental traumas. Deprivation from learning, on the other hand, may lead to ignorance, but that is not pathological (even if some of us may have experienced ignorants -- all those present not included of course :-) -- as pains in the neck).