Flashcards in 9. Evolution of Language Deck (62)
how to language and communication differ?
Language is different to communication. Communication is imparting information to another individual language is doing this in very specific ways.
what does language have that communication doesn't?
• Language has structure and recursivity it should be obvious that if you have a brother that they have a sister recursivity is the idea of going from one point to another and switching how you think, again brings in TOM. Language can do that and it is something that is a critical part of language.
• Intentionality- use language to intentionally communicate information to another
• Level of abstraction
what are the three levels of abstraction?
Indexical and Symbolic
give e.g. of iconic abstraction
using a visual representation to communicate info (e.g. a road sign)
give e.g. of indexical abstraction
e.g. waggle dance of bees where movements convey something about distance and direction to find flowers.
give an e.g. of symbolic abstraction and what is special about it
writing saying ‘stop’ nothing about the shapes of words that indicates anything to do with cease of movement. This is what language can do it can communicate things in a way that has no direct baring on the things that are being communicated.
it is argued that only humans are capable of this level of abstraction
evidence of communication in non-humans alarm calls
• Cheney & Seyfarth (1990)- vervet monkeys
o Alarm calls- give acoustically different alarm calls for different predators (leopards/ snakes/ eagles). If play back different calls e.g. play leopard they look down and eagle look up- they are interpreted differently and correctly by members of the species.
evidence of communication in non-humans- food calls
• Slocombe and Zuberbuhler (2005)- Chimps
o Different calls depending on food found
o In Edinburgh zoo- Essentially created two ‘trees’ dropped bread at one end of a wall and apples at the other. Recorded the sounds of individuals who found bread or found apples and found that individuals produced different sounds depending on the food that they found- apples had greater volume and pitch and they were more likely to produce these calls when others were around.
o Then played back the sounds of others finding either apples or bread- if they hear grunts to the apple there was a bias to going to and spending time looking at the apple tree and if hear bread call then sig more likely to go to bread tree.
o Sounds a bit like language- isn’t language because no syntax but is being produced socially and interpreted meaningfully by individuals. Is basically proto non-language. Producing sounds that other individuals are able to then use and doing it more when others are around.
what can we say about animals that have been 'taught language'
Non-human apes can learn and use some abstract symbolic cues whether its natural behaviours (e..g apple and bread) or sign language or phonetic board. They can use it in order to communicate important info about wants and needs and alarm calls and predators but not using it in the social way that we do and learning syntaxial structure naturally as humans do. Don’t have the complex and tactical language that humans have.
why have people argued that language/ hunting/ tool use may have driven language
If you have language it is easier to plan and coordinate group activities for hunting and thus increase nutritional intake of individuals.
Conventionally, language can be seen as typified by either of two utterances. “there are bison down by the lake right now” or “this is how you make a handaxe”. Both are inevitably predicated on the view that the most important information exchange problems faced by our ancestors had something to do with hunting (or even gathering). Language’s functions were thus either the exchange of ecological information or instructional.
arguments against the fact that hunting/ tools drove language
• Studies of what people actually talk about both in modern industrial societies (Dunbar et al., 1997) and traditional societies (Haviland, 1991) suggest that most conversations are in fact dominated by social topics (gossip). We use instructional forms of language only occasionally and then in rather specialised contexts.
• Hunters commonly prefer to hunt in very small froups and often do so in silence (Smith, 1991)
• Teaching someone how to make an object (e.g. handaxe) is best done by demonstration rather than verbal instructions (normally just used in the sense of do you see what I’m doing)
• There appears to be little or no correlation in the archaeological record between changes in hominid brain size (on which language must ultimately depend) and changes in tool complexity (Wynn, 1988) which would be expected if the two went hand in hand.
what did Dunbar say language evolved for?
Dunbar 1993, 1996: Languages principle function is a social one, irrespective of what the particular function might be.
argued that the principle function of language (and hence speech) is the exchange of social information (‘gossip’) in a broad sense and that language evolved to support cohesion within large social groups.
(focus on speech as a general capacity rather than what people specifically spoke about)
what evidence supports Dunbar's ideas on language?
1) group size correlates closely with relative neocortex size in primates as a whole, with humans seeming to fit nearly into this pattern with group sizes matching what would be expected of our cognition.
2) suggestion that Old World monkeys and apes, at least, use social grooming as the principal mechanism for bonding their groups.
talk about grooming and bonding
We do not understand exactly how grooming achieves this though it seems likely that it has something to do with the fact that grooming is particularly good at releasing endogenous opiates (Keverne et al., 1989). The feelings of pleasure and contentment that seem to well over an animal as a result of being groomed may create a sense of trust and contentment in the partner and this in turn may facilitate alliance formation and the reciprocation of many other social and reproductive benefits.
what is the issue with group size and grooming?
The problem, however, is that the time devoted to social grooming by Old World monkeys and apes is more or less a linear function of group size (Dunbar, 1999)
As hominid group size began to creep up above that found in the most social of the primates, so the demands on time budgets for social grooming time must have become more intense.
how much is the max time non-human primates will spend grooming?
No species of non-human primate devotes more than 20% of its total daily time budget to social interaction; this in itself represents a phenomenal amount of time.
from human group size if we were to groom how much of the day would be spent doing this?
Indeed, if we extrapolate grooming time to the group size of humans it would mean that they would have to spend 40-45% of their waking day grooming one another (Dunbar, 1993). Ultimately the biological demands of feeding, travel and resting mean that there will inevitably be an upper limit to the amount of time available to be devoted to social bonding.
what do the constraints on grooming effectively mean for humans?
Some mechanism mush have been necessary to enable modern humans (and our hominid ancestors) to bond larger groups in the same amount of time, otherwise we simply would not be able to maintain cohesive social groups of the size that we do now. – the answer seems to be the capacity to speak.
what supports the idea that humans replaced grooming with speaking?
Mean amount of time actually spent in social interaction (principally conversation) modern human societies is 20% of waking time (the upper limit observed in other primates).
why is language more effective than grooming
Human language allows us to use social time more effectively to bond larger groups in at least 3 ways.
1) it allows us to interact with more individuals at the same time (increase broadcast network)
• Dunbar argued that the core problem for language was to raise the size of the bonded group up from the max seen in non-human primates to the 150 in modern humans.
• In effect, Speech allows us to engage in grooming at a distance, thus making it possible for the groomer to interact simultaneously with several other individuals at the same time.
2) allows us to acquire or exchange information that we otherwise never find out about
3) it allows us to police freeriders
what does the social gossip hypothesis posit?
Language offers humans a unique mechanism for circumventing the issue of freeriding. We can seek out information on the behaviour of our friends, or others can tell us what happened whilst we were elsewhere. The exchange of information allows us to keep tabs on the dynamic state of relationships within our social network
what does gossip allow?
Allows individuals not only to denounce freeriders but also to monitor ones own reputation. Can advertise own qualities. Serves a purpose both in maintaining and forming sexual and social relations.
Although knowledge via third parties is never as accurate as direct personal knowledge, there is clearly significant advantage in being able to monitor changes within a social network when you are not present.
evidence supporting the social gossip hypothesis
Studies of what it is that people actually do talk about in relaxed and informal settings suggest that around 2/3rd of conversational time is devotes to social topics (Dunbar et al., 1997)
evidence against social gossip hypothesis
Although policing functions seem intuitively important, content analysis of conversations suggests that at least in public venus people talk most about their own or other’s relationships and little about the social misdemeanours of others (Dunbar et al., 1997). That the policing function of language should be so rare is surprising given the apparent importance of its effet on controlling free-riders.
So maybe freeriding isn’t as much of a serious problem as suggested, or maybe that whilst policing is important it is not a daily occurrence; it may be crucial in the handful of times that it does occur, but this seems infrequent
what overall is the issue with the social gossip hypothesis
Given the costs of growing and maintaining such large brains, it therefore seems illogical that such an expensive faculty could have evolved to support such a rare occurrence. Hence it seems that language may not have evolved to support a rare (albeit important) function; rather this is probably a function that became available once a) large groups were formed and b) freeriders has actually become a serious problem.
what would have been the key issue long before freeriders?
Long before freeriders became an issue the bonding of large groups would have been an issue.
what can we conclude on the social gossip hypothesis?
Given this, the most parsimonious conclusion is that language (in the form of social gossip) evolved to facilitate the bonding of large groups (themselves required to solve a specific ecological problem); large groups facilitates the spread of freeriders and as a result, the basic function of language as a device for exchanging information was exploits to control freeriders.
who developed the social contract hypothesis?
what does the social contract hypothesis posit
in human social systems, martial units (monogampus or polygymous families) live in close association within a larger group. The problem is that, in the classic hunter-gatherer set-up in which we evolved, males who went hunting to provide meat for their females left their mates at risk of being mated by rivals; equally their own mates were exposed to the risk that their husbands might themselves mate with other females in neighbouring groups.
This Deacon (1977) argues placed intolerable strains on the relationships involved. Marriage contracts whereby mates declare to each other- and perhaps publicly to the rest of the group- their marital obligations and agree not to mate with other individuals was the solution to this problem.