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THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE (TASKS) Yule, George (2011). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 1)

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Presentation on theme: "THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE (TASKS) Yule, George (2011). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 1)"— Presentation transcript:

1 THE ORIGINS OF LANGUAGE (TASKS) Yule, George (2011). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 1)

2 1. The Heimlich manuever A procedure used to dislodge pieces of food that are stuck in the throat, in the upper respiratory passage. It is associated with the lower position of the larynx in humans. The maneuver is used as a solution to the risks caused by that development

3 1.B The Tower of Babel “ And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth. (Genesis 11: 5-9)

4 1.B The Tower of Babel

5 1.B The tower of Babel The usual interpretation of these events is that humans were united in a single language and working together to build a tower which represented a challenge to God, and God intervened in some way so that they couldn’t understand each other and dispersed them to different places. This can be viewed as an explanation of how humans started with a single language and ended up with thousands of different, mutually unintelligible languages all over the world. Apparently there were many large towers built in Mesopotamia (part of modern Iraq) which all had names suggesting they were perceived as stairways to heaven. Robert Dunbar (1996: 152-3) describes one of these towers from a historical point of view.

6 1.C A teleological explanation A simple example would be the claim that giraffes developed long necks in order to be able to reach leaves on higher branches of trees. Arguments for teleology are present in most religions, as exemplified by God giving Adam the power of language in order to do other things.

7 1.D Ontogeny and Phylogeny Ernst Haeckel was a professor of zoology who, in 1866, invented the terms “ontogeny” (= the development of an individual) and “phylogeny” (= the development of a species) and went on to claim that “ontogeny is the short and rapid recapitulation of phylogeny. The idea was very popular for many years, but is no longer taken as seriously, mainly because of a more detailed understanding of how human infants develop language in a context with others who use the language rather than in a context where no language exists beforehand.

8 1.D Ontogeny and Phylogeny

9 1.E When was language born ? If we believe that “language was born” when the first sound combinations were used for more than emotional cries, then we might argue that homo habilis, more than two million years ago, was the first to have some type of language, based on the following evidence. (i) Basic vocalizations of the type still found among primates were used, not just in isolation, but in combinations as a form of proto-language. (See Bickerton, 1990.)

10 1.E When was language born ? (ii) Among groups, the proto-language was probably initially used during social interaction, possibly in connection with grooming. (See Dunbar, 1996.) (iii) Enlargements of the areas in the left hemisphere of the brain found in the fossil record are associated with the motor skills involved in both object manipulation (creating tools) and sound manipulation (creating utterances).

11 1.E When was language born? However, if we believe that “language was born” only after the vocal tract developed and had a structure comparable to that found in modern humans, then we have to wait until a time between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago. Even during this period, however, the fossil record doesn’t seem to support arguments for “speech,” as we normally think of it, especially in the case of Neanderthal remains.

12 1.E When was language born ? If, however, we don’t accept these simple sound combinations as language and need evidence of symbolic representation and more elaborate cultural artifacts, then we would have to say that language wasn’t really born until a period about 50,000 to 30,000 years ago.

13 1.F Universal grammar The innateness hypothesis proposes that human infants are born with a special capacity for language not shared with any other creature and that this capacity is genetically determined. It is “hard-wired” in the organism. The linguist Noam Chomsky proposed that this inborn capacity was essentially a type of basic grammar that could develop, with experience, into all the various grammars of different languages

14 1.F The Universal grammar

15 1.F Universal grammar This basic grammar must be present in every newborn child and hence is universal. So, this Universal Grammar provides the structural basis for language in the same way that other genetic information provides the structural basis for other human organs such as an arm or a liver


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