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Theory of language and semioticsFaculty of language and literature The Semiotic Hypercycle and the Run-Away Process of Linguistic (Symbolic) Evolution.

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Presentation on theme: "Theory of language and semioticsFaculty of language and literature The Semiotic Hypercycle and the Run-Away Process of Linguistic (Symbolic) Evolution."— Presentation transcript:

1 Theory of language and semioticsFaculty of language and literature The Semiotic Hypercycle and the Run-Away Process of Linguistic (Symbolic) Evolution Contribution to the Cradle of Language Conference,Stellenbosch, South Africa, 7 – 10 Nov 2006 Wolfgang Wildgen

2 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 2 1INTRODUCTION1INTRODUCTION 2THE HYPERCYCLE2THE HYPERCYCLE 3THE DYNAMICS INHERENT IN THE SIGN (Based on Peirce)3THE DYNAMICS INHERENT IN THE SIGN (Based on Peirce) 4 BASIC FUNCTIONS OF SIGNS (Based on Bühler) 5SOME LEVELS OF THE EMERGENCE OF GRAMMAR5SOME LEVELS OF THE EMERGENCE OF GRAMMAR 6CONCLUSIONS6CONCLUSIONS Further aspects (Cassirer)

3 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 3 Introduction Two major periods of rapid emergence are plausible: 1.The first is linked to the emergence of lithic technology (Homo habilis) and to the protospecies which was later distributed in Africa, Asia and Europe: Homo erectus (and its African variant Homo ergaster). One can postulate that the core of this evolution took place around 2 my BP. (2.4 to 1.6 my). 2.The second concerns the archaic Homo sapiens prior to the second Out-of-Africa migration. We may fix the core of its evolution to the period 300 ky BP (400 to 200 ky).

4 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 4 Four major points of access 1.The hypercycle proposed by Eigen and Schuster for the emergence of life. This will be extrapolated to the evolution of language. 2.The semiotic cascade introduced by Peirce as a cosmic universal. It has to be restricted for our purpose. 3.Bühler’s model of the basic functions of signs and language. It must be critically reassessed. 4.The plurality of (parallel) symbolic forms postulated by Ernst Cassirer in his “philosophy of symbolic forms”.

5 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 5 Communicative / cognitive capabilities of the LCA  Protolanguage / Protocognition  Actual human linguistic and cognitive capacities Three steps in the last 7 my.

6 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 6 At the first level one may assume a capacity for communication found in many mammals and even birds. If we assume that modern primates like chimpanzees have not dramatically increased their capacities for cognition and language in the last 6 my, the level of LCA may be elucidated by a comparison between humans and primates (cf. Tomasello, 1999). The second level, that of Homo erectus, is really a large plateau, because this species existed for almost 2 my (up to the Homo floriensis 15,000 years ago). In this long period many variants developed. The Homo neanderthaliensis, a late branch of the Homo erectus population which reached Europe half a million years ago, became a rival of Homo sapiens.

7 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 7 In the Near East they occupied similar ecologies around 100,000 y BP, but only in the late migration of Homo sapiens to Europe (after 40,000 y BP) did the two species really clash before the Homo neanderthaliensis disappeared y. later). Major genetically coded differences in semiotic and linguistic capacity must have emerged in this period and due to heavy ecological changes (mainly the ice-ages with cycles of migration from northern to southern areas, of dry and humid periods, changes in the fauna and flora) a series of bottle-neck scenarios could select even for minor differences in social organization and cognitive semiotic advantages. The third level must have been reached with the speciation of Homo sapiens and its migration first to Southern Asia (reaching Australia) and then to Europe. The potential of this new species is documented in the use of ochre and ornaments/art in South Africa (ca. 70,000 BP) and in the Franco-Cantabric cultures (after 35,000 BP), which laid the ground for the Neolithic revolution and the first civilization in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

8 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 8 Although Darwin’s assumption that human language arose from animal expressive and communicative behavior (Darwin, 1872) remains relevant in the context of modern evolutionary biology, one must still find a way to explain the rapidity and extent of the evolutionary change. Darwin proposed sexual selection as a natural analogy of breeding. In fact sexual selection can trigger a runaway process (cf. Wildgen, 2004: 17-20). However, the characters evolved by sexual selection are mostly different between the sexes and appear at sexual maturity. Language and linguistic thought ask for another, deeper runaway process. This does not eliminate sexual selection for specific phonic features but the pragmatic, semantic and syntactic power of human languages needs another type of explanation.

9 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 9 “Non-coupled self-replicative units guarantee the conservation of a limited amount of information which can be passed on from generation to generation. This proves to be one of the necessary prerequisites of Darwinian behavior, i.e. of selection and evolution. In a similar way, catalytic hypercycles are also selective, but, in addition, they have integrating properties, which allow for cooperation between otherwise competitive units. Yet, they compete even more violently than Darwinian species with any replicative entity not being part of their own. Furthermore, they have the ability of establishing global forms of organization as a consequence of their once-for-ever-selection behavior, which does not permit a coexistence with other hypercyclic systems, unless these are stabilized by higher-order linkages.” (Eigen and Schuster, 1979: 6) The Hypercycle

10 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 10 Illustration of the hypercycle “the inter-mediates I i are able to instruct their own reproduction and, in addition, provide cata-lytic support for the reproduction of the subsequent interme- diate (using the energy -rich building materials X)” (ibidem: 5). A B D C Energy rich building materials Catalytic hypercycle Autocatalytic cycle

11 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 11 The most dramatic difference between physiological microevolution and symbolic (linguistic) macroevolution concerns the fact that the first one stores and activates the phylogenetic memory of a species, whereas the latter stores the historical/cultural and the individual/biographical memory. The interesting features of catalytic and hypercyclic organization is that they enable faithful replication and dramatic selection by their hyperbolic growth. This means that all types of organization which are not part of an operative hypercycle (i.e., all competitors at a lower level) are repressed. I will try to fill this abstract type of model with some details from human evolution. I choose two routes of application, one cognitive (neural) and one social (cultural).

12 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 12 The cognitive hypercycle 1.The simplest level is that of reflexes which link perceptual input and motor output. As the reflex mechanism itself is neither perceptual nor motoric but a neutral medium of linkage, it may be called a catalyst. Stimulus response models of language exploit this first level of catalysis (and stick to it). 2.If (an independent) memory exists, a top-down control may modify the “reflex”. Memory is, therefore, a higher control, an autocatalyst which has its own internal cycle of categorization, of distributed storage and retrieval modes. 3.Consciousness or specific fore-brain centered monitoring processes are able to compare and evaluate different second order (memory-induced) information and, therefore, they act like a hypercycle based on memory dependent autocatalytic processes.

13 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 13 The social/cultural hypercycle 1.Already in the LCA contextual space acts as an external memory of affordances, which is indexically given by paths (of social locomotion and predator/prey-locomotion), harvesting locations (and times), dangerous locations, places for sleep, courtship, housing, frontiers of territories, etc. These indexically loaded areas and places function like a catalyst of social action, insofar as they can coordinate social perception and action. 2.As soon as space is more specifically organized in relation to cognition and social use, it unfolds in a cycle of social “investment”. Architecture and the spatial organization of a village (or later a town) are clear examples. This level is autocatalytic insofar as the spatial organization becomes itself a cyclic structure in which different functions cooperate.

14 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 14 Semiotically invested subspaces (left) and possible symbolic functions (right) housing fire place myth. space ritual public space tool making outside chase, harvest

15 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 15 3.In the further development different (regional) forms of symbolic modes (e.g., language and religion) clash. This was the case in the large Neolithic societies of Egypt and Mesopotamia, where a new level of symbolic consciousness was reached. 4.The single fields in the next figure are reorga- nized in a hypercycle, which produced new, institutionalized symbolic systems, such as a codified religion and a written language.

16 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 16 The hypercycle of centralized, codified symbolic forms (myth and language). myth 1 Product of the interaction: Religious code myth 2 myth 3 myth 4 language 1 Product of the interaction: Written language language 2 language 3 language 4

17 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 17 Peirce gave a new interpretation to the semiotic triad discussed since antiquity. The three terms are called: sign (the body of the sign) — object (the external state/process the sign refers to) and interpretant (the system which lawfully links sign and object). The interpretant may be a living sign user (e.g., an interpreter), but it can be any support for a lawful connexion between sign and referent. As such it may reenter the semiotic triad lead to a cascade of sign-triads. Peirce abstracts the sign-notion from human (and animal) communication and subsumes any lawful relation between two entities as a sign. This leads to universal semiosis. The generalized notion of sign (Peirce)

18 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 18 The cascade of semiosis (Peirce) Partial view of (infinite) semiosis in Peirce’s proposal based on the object. As a consequence objects (i.e. the world) becomes semiotically loaded. Object (referent) 1Sign 1 Lawful relation between sign and object Interpretant 1 becomes referent 2 Sign 3 Interpretant 2 becomes referent 3 Interpretant 3 becomes referent 4 Sign 2 Sign 4

19 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 19 The relevance of the Peirce-hierarchy for the evolution of language In the transition to life (the central topic of Eigen and Schuster, 1979), a new type of selectivity and thus of information emerges. One could say that the genetic code as a sign structure refers to an evolutionary history, which itself refers to a sequence of lawful relations between species and their ecology. Therefore, one must distinguish at least two levels of semiosis (beyond the pre-life semiosis in physics and chemistry),

20 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 20 R 0 (species)O 0 ( ecology) The series of species The series of ecologies Selection at level 1 Selection at level 2 Selection at level 3 Resultant level n = genetic code O1O1 O2O2 First level: The genetic code as memory of selections Evolutionary sequence

21 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 21 Information levels in biological systems The genetic code is stable under reproduction, but in order to guarantee this stability, it has to be insensitive to minor irregularities, individual variation, learning. Its information capacity increases but reaches a maximal level with sexual reproduction: Jantsch (1982: 255 ff.) calculates: 5  10 9 digits The further augmentation of information can only be achieved based on the self-organization of the brain (and learning, i.e., non- genetic differentiation) and by social evolution. In learning and in the cultural selection/conservation of its outcome, we enter a new cycle where individuals (societies) interact with their ecology.

22 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 22 The cascade of learning and social knowledge R 0 (individual reaction) O 0 (apprehended ecology) Accumulated learning Socially perceived ecology I 1 learned correlation between R 0 and O 0 I 2 secondary learning (based on learned behavior) higher levels of learning Result = social knowledge O 1 imitated relevance O2O2

23 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 23 The two levels have different selection criteria. The symbolic forms (e.g. language) are not species- universal, i.e., every separated community develops largely different symbolic systems, e.g., languages. Therefore, the grammars of languages cannot be compared to the genetic code. As the story of symbolic forms is still a rather short one compared to that of the genetic code, one could imagine selective pressures on symbolic codes which would eliminate almost all variants and thus produce a symbolic code which is as stable and reproducible (without errors) as it is the case for the genetic code. Another scenario could be the successive reduction of symbolic forms along the sequences of its evolution (regression). Basic differences between the two levels of semiosis

24 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 24 representation expressionappeal Meta-representation (poetic function) Human language Semiotic sign Animal communication Non-semiotic sign Bühler‘s triad of sign-functions and the emergence of language

25 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 25 The Bühler-schema as an evolutionary hierarchy The basic distinction is that between “social communication” (social calls, grooming,...) as a cover-term for both expression and appeal and functional referentiality (which first appears in referential alarm-calls). If representation is in its first stages already present in socially organized primates, the transition to humans concerns mainly: –the enrichment of representation, i.e., the lexicon and via self-organization the syntax; –the emergence of meta-representation. The most prominent case of meta-representation concerns propositional attitudes and explicit performatives.

26 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 26 Functional hierarchy at three levels 1.The inner circle is reached by all animals with a social organization and specific reactions to their environment, 2.the middle circle concerns animal communication with a minimal reference to the context and 3.the outer circle encompasses humans Metalingual, poetic function Representation Ecological categories Phatic function Social categories Expression/appeal

27 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 27 Selective value of representation In a Darwinian framework only the fertility of the species (not its cleverness) counts. As representation is a type of information-sharing, one must ask: Under what circumstances did (reciprocal) sharing of information pay? Strong reciprocity is only produced by between-group selectivity in contexts where groups with many strong reciprocators are better able to survive. The rapidly changing warm and cold periods where such contexts Eastern and Northern Africa (Sahara) and in Europe A population which is often in danger of extinction and must therefore reorganize (including strangers) will produce a relevant amount of strong reciprocators. As in normal time egoistic behavior is favored, the species will in the long run assemble a stable amount of reciprocators and egoists, i.e., the population is ethically bivalent. Cf. Fehr and Henrich (2003)

28 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 28 Some levels of the emergence of grammar 1.Basic level: This most basic cognitive level contains the capacity of efficient locomotion, for causal impact on the environment and action. If consciousness is added one obtains a set of dynamic scenarios which control intentional behavior and the understanding of causality. 2.Emergence of performing vocal articulation and auditive perception: At this stage highly performant perceptual and motor faculties for vocal communication evolve. With the prominence of vocal communication for social comfort and control this capacity was further elaborated. The basic principles of phonology may have emerged in this period.

29 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 29 3.A protolanguage based on a compositionally enriched lexicon: The underlying capacity characteristic of this stage of development is a very systematic exploitation of the affordances of the ambient and changing ecology. This capacity was amplified by continuously profiting from the growth of associative areas in the cortex. It probably evolved continuously in a long period between the migration of Homo erectus and the reign of late Cro-Magnon man. 4.The evolution of syntactically and textually complex languages: This step emerges with the mastering of stable valence patterns and the use of verbal art (narratives, rhetoric, song, myth). Probably this level emerged with archaic Homo sapiens and was fully evolved and functionally exploited in Cro-Magnon populations, which created the first large cultural networks.

30 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 30 Linguistic universals and evolutionary levels Linguistic universals should respect the evolutionary stratification of the linguistic capacity of humans. It should therefore consider the levels of: 1.action/motion perception and planning (dynamic archetypes); 2.phonetic/phonological principles and routines, such as basic feature distinctions, syllable structures, rhythmic and euphonic constraints (i.e., phonetic universals and principles of phonological self-organization); 3.universals of lexical fields, polysemy, metaphor, and compositionality principles for word like gestalts; 4.syntactic and textual principles for the organization of larger linguistic gestalts.

31 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 31 Summary The 18th century witnessed the rapid invention of „stories“ about the origin of language (Condillac, Rousseau, Maupertuis, Diderot, Herder). Using new details one could just continue writing better “stories”. In my paper I started from three abstract models in order to develop a frame in which the evolution of language could be explained. 1.I used the concept of hypercycle (Eigen and Schuster) introduced for the modeling of the origin of life and the creation of the genetic code, 2.I applied the schema of (infinite) semiosis (Peirce) in order to explain the increase of information 3. I specified the functional triangle of Bühler in order to explain the emergence of higher levels of representation.

32 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 32 One central concern was the equal consideration of cognitive/ neural and social/cultural parameters in the evolution of human language. Both lines, cognitive and cultural evolution, have been followed by the two “innovative” species which left Africa: –Homo erectus (1,6 my BP) –Homo sapiens (100 ky BP) The precise nature of the semiotic hypercycle has still to be elaborated, in order to reach the theoretical and empirical level of Eigen und Schuster’s proposals.

33 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 33 Some references Bax, Marcel, Barend van Heusden and Wolfgang Wildgen (eds.), Semiotic Evolution and the Dynamics of Culture, Lang, Bern. Cassirer, Ernst, 1953/1957. The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, vol. 1 to 3, Yale U.P., New Haven. Eigen, Manfred and Peter Schuster, The Hypercycle. A Principle of Natural Self-Organization, Springer, Berlin. Fehr, Ernst and Joseph Henrich, Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundation of Human Altruism, CESIFO Working Papers No Jantsch, Erich, The self-organizing universe: scientific and human implications of the emergent paradigm of evolution, Pergamon Press, Oxford. Peirce, Charles Sanders, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol. 1-8, Harvard U.P., Cambridge U.P. Wildgen, Wolfgang, The Evolution of Human Languages. Scenarios, Principles, and Cultural Dynamics, Benjamins, Amsterdam.

34 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 34 Further aspects (added material)

35 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 35 The pluralism of symbolic forms and the evolution of language 1.Myth gives rather a fluid/continuous view of the world. Mythical symbols lack a clear separation of name and referent, insofar as the name is/calls for the entity. In a magical context the naming of the spirit makes him appear. Therefore the naming of God may offense Him and becomes a taboo. The arbitrariness of human symbols (which after de Saussure characterizes language) is ignored or rejected. 2.Language is organized into discrete units and shows a clear distinction between ‘signifiant’ and ‘signifié’ (F. de Saussure). It is organized in a quasi-logical grid of oppositions (Hjelmslev calls it the sublogical structure of language).

36 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 36 3.Science, mainly in its mathematical form approaches “pure meaning” (reine Bedeutung). The mathematical description is neither contextually dependent / ambiguous nor is it based on bodily experience. 4.Secondary symbolic forms like technology, art and law are either located at intermediate levels (art between myth and language), technology (between myth and science) or are combinations of different symbolic forms (poetry, opera, film) The basic character of language is most visible in the highly coherent and very rich structure of grammars. Therefore, the key to any evolutionary theory of language lies in the explanation of grammar (phonology, lexicon, syntax, discourse) and its semantic and, pragmatic aspects.

37 Theory of language and semiotics Faculty of Language and Literature Wolfgang Wildgen 37 A word of caution may be necessary at this point. The fact that today or in some historical period language, music, dance, religion, law were strongly interwoven does not mean that this was the case at the origin. Contrary to religion, art, law, the capacity of language is much deeper rooted in human nature, as it shows up even under very poor conditions (it is only absent in rare cases like “wolf-children”, or in the case of genetic or neural deficiency). This almost universal stability of language points to some kind of evolutionary priority. Other symbolic forms were either shaped along the principles of language or, if they are of independent origin, they were adapted to language. Therefore, it seems necessary to gain first a good explanation of language. The consideration of other symbolic forms as possible elucidation of the origin of language is rather a methodological strategy, based on the fact that we have evidence on the other symbolic forms (tool industries, color pigments, cave art) before we have (written) records of language.


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