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Language Origin

Discussion in 'Christianity and World Religion' started by humblemuslim, Aug 9, 2009.

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  1. humblemuslim

    humblemuslim I am busy currently. Will be less active soon.

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    They have a name for this. Straw men.

    Kind of like the big bang without an explanation of where the "bang" came from. It just did, right? Like language. Just happened from thin air. Sounds a lot like magic if you ask me.

    Example:

    Consider a closed system. It has a known amount of energy. Suddenly the energy of the system increases. We can draw two conclusions:

    1. Energy can be created by some natural process.

    2. Some outside force acted on the system.

    I am arguing for option 2 based on the evidence. The opposition is arguing for option 1 based on straw men so far...
     
  2. Fear

    Fear Guest

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    Eh, fair enough.

    Well, with language we can work within the basics laws of the universe, and in trying to describe the universe 'before' the big bang, we cannot. :p To me, the beginnings of space and time are a lot harder for me to wrap my mind around than the origins of language. Once you've drank the evolution kool-aid like me, it's one of those baby steps to imagine language starting off!

    Depends on whether it's a science or math problem -- just how well is the amount of energy know?!?!?!?!

    Regardless, I don't see how this relates to the big bang or the origin of language -.-.
     
  3. humblemuslim

    humblemuslim I am busy currently. Will be less active soon.

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    Well I am waiting to hear that baby step of natural language origins. The cycle I responded to Wicked Willow with is where I am stuck when it comes to a natural point of view. Where is the opportunity for that baby step? I am not saying language just magically started off as it is today. Of course it has changed and grew with time. There is evidence for the growth of language with time.

    Where I am at a loss is the origin. Am I to believe it just happened or am I to believe an outside force acted on our system. This is the fundamental point that needs to be addressed.


    Consider a petri dish. When we find that bacteria has grown on it, we assume this was caused by contamination of that dish. Why? Because we have never observed life spontaneously being created from nothing, so our logical conclusion is a small life form contaminated the dish and grew. Microscopes aid with providing direct tangible evidence beyond logic alone.

    The same situtation applies to language. We have never witnessed language spontaneously being created from an enviornment void of language. So why then should I come to the conclusion that this happened? It does not logically follow from what has been observed. Obersvation, the scientific method if you will, tells me that language is taught and not innate. Also it tells me that language must be learned early in a human being's life. The evidence points to something unknown outside of our system teaching us our language.

    Since we do not have the benefit of a tool to provide direct tangible evidence of this unknown being(s), we must suffice for now with our logic, observation, and indirect evidence. This should be sufficent considering no tool can produce tangible evidence of the big bang. It is all based on logical application of the laws of the universe as we think we know them and indirect evidence. Not all science has to have tangible direct evidence. Tangible indirect evidence is frequently used when it comes to the theories regarding origins.

    Why is there a relectance to accept the logical possibility of the existence of a lifeform, being, etc. that educated us? But yet there is a push for a natural understanding that lacks in scientific support? This situtation reminds me a lot of when a theist announces God created the universe. The atheists responds, by what evidence. The theist responds, because it must be that way. Says who? Not science.

    One objection already raised that I will bring up again because I have a feeling it will reemerge, how did this outside being learn language? Well there is no logical reason why we have to apply our circumstances and abilities onto a being we know nothing about. Not to mention the introduction of this topic will eventually lead to a red herring, since we are inquirying how humans came to know language given our abilities and shortcomings, not how this being came to know language. There is a complete lack of evidence for how this being(s) came to know language, so no stance can be taken scientifically.

    I have a feeling someone is going to mention science does not support the 'unseen' as this being(s) has never been seen. Science does support 'unseen' things. Dark matter is one such example. We find our laws for the universe are not working, so we decide an invisible dark matter is responisble. Through observation of indirect evidence, and an assumption our laws are sound we come to the conclusion something we can't see exists in order to fix things. Something said to be more abundant than visible matter, and yet never seen by humans. To have an expectation that it needs to be seen with our own two eyes is unrealistic. Our eyes can not always be trusted. Somethings we see are fake or misleading and somethings we can not see are fundamental to reality.

    For the sake of the example, it is know with absolute certainty. And it is known with absolute certainty the amount of it increased in a closed system. Then we are left with the two choices I listed. Because it is not an option that we made a mistake in measurement.

    This example does not directly relate to either. All the example is meant to do is show that two conclusions are possible concerning language's origin (Or some combination of the two options):

    1. Language was created by humans

    2. Language was taught by something/someone else

    These are collectively exhaustive options. If humans created it or someone/something else introduced it then this accounts for all possible sources.

    These two options are analgous to the two options presented regarding the introduction of additional energy into a closed system. An observing person can either come to an understanding that:

    1. Energy can be created by some natural process.

    2. Some outside force acted on the system.

    Natural = Human

    Outside Force = Other Being(s)


    Of course there is nothing in my overall argument in this thread that says this being(s) has to be outside nature. It can be either part of our universe and thereby part of nature (In a sense) or it can be outside the universe and not part of nature. This detail is not being argued here. I am just pointing out this being(s) could be either. The language origin argument does not provide evidence towards one or the other.

     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2009
  4. Wicked Willow

    Wicked Willow Well-Known Member

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    "Unwillingness"? There's a whole new academic FIELD devoted to nothing BUT the study of the origin of language; it lay dormant for nearly a century, but has re-emerged in the early 1990s and is now flourishing. It's called evolutionary linguistics, and is an interdisciplinary effort combining disciplines such as neurolinguistics, psycholinguistics et. al.


    How did that outside source acquire language? The dilemma remains: you just end up with the end product, language, yet cannot account for its genesis.

    Cultures who never came into contact with a civilization that had already invented the wheel usually didn't use them: the Maya, for example, could compute the solar year with fascinating accuracy, and built a road system that spanned thousands of miles - but they never figured out that it would be much easier to transport goods if you put them on a rolling vehicle.
    That, however, doesn't mean that the first wheel was handed down to Mankind in general by some "outside source" - all it took was for one tribe to invent it.
    Now, I don't think that language as we know it was invented in a single generation, progressing from grunts and body language to abstract discussions. As such, its acquisition happened much more gradual as the neural capacities of our ancestors grew.

    I think you quite underestimate the communicative abilities of other animals.
    And now you give too little credit to our own species, mistaking one of our strengths (that is, the art of acquiring skills by imitating others) for a weakness (that is, a supposed inability to manage anything on our own, let alone invent something new without imitating some other species).
    Our body language is utterly our own, for example, and it is an inborn ability: for example, even seriously impaired children who are blind AND deaf smile instinctively when they are happy. This is the first level of communication, and one that we have in common with virtually all other vertebrae in various degrees.
    The next level would be an acquired form, consisting of words that are specific to a language, yet usually do not make it into the dictionaries.
    For example, a native speaker of English may give voice to his sense of disgust by making a sound like "ugh" (notably with a voiceless uvular fricative in the end that you won't find in any other English word). A German, on the other hand, would say "eeeee" instead.



    It progressed in gradual steps, growing over the course of countless generations, passed on from parents to children.

    Ah, but here you fail to understand what feral children do: they aren't unable to learn language - they merely adapt to the social circumstances they are brought up in, seizing upon their ability to acquire skills through imitation. Thus, a human infant placed among a pack of wolves will grow to be the best "wolf" it can be, acquiring their "language" and patterns of behaviour as its "native language".

    Species usually keep to themselves, so there was no "vicious cycle" to begin with. Early man was socialized by early man, and acquired knowledge was passed on from one generation to the next.


    Ah, I see you do not understand how evolution works. That, of course, explains a lot. Let me try to straighten things out:

    1) Humans are NOT the descendants of chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are more like our modern-day "distant cousins", headed down another branch of the tree of speciation; we share distant ancestors (who were neither chimps nor humans), who then split up into divergent strains that gradually evolved into the species we are familiar with today.

    2)Evolutionary biology does NOT claim that one of these distant ancestors one day gave birth to modern man, raising a human child in a tribe of chimp-like beings. Far from it. Human evolution
    was a process spanning millions of years. So, man was brought up by man.


    There is no cycle that needs to be broken. People can acquire, discover or even invent new skills and pass them on to their children. That's how languages evolved. That's how we learn to build houses, drive cars, operate or design machinery, behave according to the social code of our society - and yes, speak our native languages.
     
  5. Danhalen

    Danhalen Healing

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    I am missing how either of these points are problematic. As language is a human social development, children not raised in a human society will not gain language. However, humans, like all great apes, are social animals--so this is not a problem in most cases (that's why feral children work better as a feather in my cap and not yours). Since social activity helps to wire the neural pathways in the human brain, language is innate. Complex language evolved over time. All social primates (which is almost all of them) have some form of language but lack the FOXP2 gene (and others). The language they possess lets them communicate where food sources are or where danger is. The more complex the primate the more diversity and specificity the language acquires. Chimps and bonobos actually have specific vocalizations for each other and emotive states. What's more is that these vocalizations are specific to geographic regions. That is, there are several chimp and bonobo languages--further demonstrating the social aspect of language. They cannot develop a complex language analogous to human speech because of that missing genetic factor.

    Now imagine a hominid specie which has this rudimentary language already in place. Collect enough mutations in the genes relating to human speech and over time complex language appears. There's no mystery needed. Simple natural selection and socialization gets the job done.
     
  6. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

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    Namaste Wicked Willow,

    thank you for the wonderful and insightful posts thus far.

    i'd like to slightly diverge from the main topic to address a salient point which you made that, though unrelated to language per se, is fascinating.

    indeed.. this is a startling mystery at first blush and indeed, the Mezoamericans had invented wheels however they were only used on toys!

    it's hard to understand why this simple device was not put into production on a civilization scale until we examine the fauna from which the Mezoamericans and, indeed, the north and south americans had and opportunity to domesticate. as it turns out the only domesticated animal of sufficient size and strenght to pull a wagon with good was a relative of the camel, the Llama and Alpaca though Alpaca were mostly domesticated as a source of wool rather than labor.

    in any event, this sole instance of domestication took place high in the Andes mountains and, given the inability of Llamas to transverse the Ithsmus of Panama the Mezoamericans never heard of them and thus wheels were never put into use in Mezoamerican socities. it was not until the Spanish arrived with domesticated horses that the use of the wheel arose on those socities, lest one think that this is an indication of some sort of ethnic condition, the socities that lacked wheels used them without any problem once they had a sufficiently large domesticated animal to use.

    metta,

    ~v
     
  7. humblemuslim

    humblemuslim I am busy currently. Will be less active soon.

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    Wonderful. Can you summarize some useful evidence they have discovered regarding this topic? The link again emphasizes a lack of empirical data. Perhaps they are not looking in the right places. Feral children consistent as indirect empirical data. Do you have any additional sources with more information than this wiki article?

    As I already said this amounts to a red herring. The answer is unknown because we have absolutely no evidence of the linguistic capabilities of this outside being(s). We, however, do have evidence for the linguistic capabilities of humans, which point to an inability to formulate our own languages from scratch. So I can either just accept, without any evidence or observation of it ever happening, that language was created by humans. Or I can believe someone/something taught us, which is currently being backed by some indirect evidence.

    Why should I believe matter and energy cannot be created? Why should I believe it can happen? No one has ever seen it happen. That is simply the reason why it has become a law.

    There is a problem while considering language an invention. An invention is the realization of an idea. Ideas are thought of in our minds. We use our ability of abstraction and language to formulate simple and complex ideas. Seeing as my job involves inventing, creating, abstraction, etc. I have a hard time imagining having the ability to invent something without at the very least spoken language, let alone not having some form of written communication to not only remember my line of thought, but also to pass it along to others. Our thoughts are in our language. Without language you are left with emotions and senses. That could explain why early humans expressed themselves with cave art, since art is an emotional expression. Not a logical one.

    Is there evidence a creature can invent without language? Bare in mind picking up a stick and using it is not an invention anymore than grunting is a language. That is a utilization of one's environment, perhaps in a clever manner. An invention is a synthesis or alteration of parts or ideas into a final useful product.

    A wheel would constitute as a simple invention once it is utilized, as when it is used to move things.

    Making a stick into a spear would also.

    Picking up a stick and poking it into a hole to get bugs would not.

    Okay. I think you overestimate them ^_^

    Emotions are not language. There is a distinction to be made here. There is a difference between innate communication (Body language) and acquired communication (Spoken/Written language). Certain body language can be acquired to if someone is actively attempting to overdrive their natural tendencies.

    So how do we tell the difference? There is a simple observation one can make. Take animal X in area A and take animal Y in area C, where both animals are of the same species and where the areas are remote from one another. We find the animals can "Communicate" with one another using body language. Do the same with two humans with different acquired body language, spoken language, and written language. We find they lack the ability to communicate with each other with their acquired language. Where a waving in one culture might symbolize a greeting, in another it might symbolize a threat.

    In the animal kingdom this ambiguity and barrier is not present. When a lion roars, the other animals know what is up. They respond appropriately at the very least. Whereas cultural barriers between humans cause humans to behavior unpredictably. If someone starts waving to you, you might be inclined to wave back or walk up to them. What if doing so causes you to be punched in the face because they were threatening you in the first place? How would you know any better unless someone told you.

    How? Saying it happened is great I suppose. Providing evidence it happened would be preferred...

    That's is fine. That is part of my evidence. This shows the "Natural State" of humans if you will. It shows us what happens when no one else is involved, no teacher. The result is not an arbitrary language. If feral children created their own languages, even if they only consisted of only a few words for things they found important, then you would have a case. I have not seen such evidence.

    Already know that.... Chimps have the closest DNA to our own (I've seen numbers like 98.8%) and according to science share a common ancestor with us. I'm not really sure where you believed I held these views, nor do I see how they are relevant. Their is a reason why I mentioned other animals, to include whatever you want to call the intermediates and whatever they might encounter in nature, whether those animals exist today or not is not relevant.

    The point remains that no evidence exists that humans, even over 100,000's of years, have the ability to create language. There is no point in me going into an great amount of detail regarding the subject of macro evolution.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2009
  8. humblemuslim

    humblemuslim I am busy currently. Will be less active soon.

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    Now I know how an atheist feels when a theist tells him:

    "God exist"
    "How do you know"
    "He just does, okay? It is a fact."


    I feel kind of strange at this point since it appears the tables are now Topsy-Turvy. :waaah:

    I would like to see evidence for what is being said highlighted in this color. It is the first thing mentioned that, if supported, might constitute as good evidence.
     
  9. Wicked Willow

    Wicked Willow Well-Known Member

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    Before we continue this discussion, may I make a humble request to you, humblemuslim?
    Please, can you just insert your answers directly below the part of the quotation you are referring to, so that I can more easily read it? Certainly, splitting up the quote into several parts isn't more difficult than inking it in half a dozen different colours - yet it makes it much easier to read them that way, especially in the case of really long posts like the one above. As it is, I have to scroll back and forth, as it is impossible to read both the quote and your specific reply at the same time. HUGELY frustrating.

    Thus, I'll refrain from answering your last post bit-by-bit, giving you instead a list of sources you may consult:

    The First Word is an introduction to the field, written specifically for people who are not professionally acquainted with it.

    Adam's Tongue is a title that seems to suggest a similarly supernatural explanation as the one you have offered, yet fortunately, it seems to have been chosen solely because mythological references make for catchy titles.

    The First Idea, then, is a wee bit more academic than the rest, but still written in a very accessible manner.

    Language and the Mind is a collection of essays by Noam Chomsky, a pioneer in the field. I disagree with his genetic determinism, (which, if you ask me, has been partially falsified in recent years) but it is undisputable that he contributed tremendously to the field.


    Oh, and a final word: cave art already hints at the presence of a quintessential requirement for language - the ability to think in terms of symbols and abstractions.
     
  10. Danhalen

    Danhalen Healing

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    That topic is incredibly complex. I do not have the money to send you my anthropology text books, but if you'd like to understand how language develops you'll need to read something like a text book. I thought that you, having approached this subject, would have had at least a preliminary understanding of how anthropologists understand the development of human language--otherwise you'd be foolish to criticize something you know nothing about.

    Here is a decent link which discusses complex language in chimps: Chimpanzee Communication

    The other part came from a program I recently watched on NatGeo: Human Ape. It was in this program that I learned of local languages in chimps. I'll see if I can find a link on it if you really need it.
     
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