• Mark Aman
    7
    What is present can be referred to by the simple act of pointing. Earliest man used this means first and exclusively to refer to what was present, since, like any animal, he was not yet aware of the possibility and power of absence. And of course we still use this means of referring to present things as when I 'point out' which building on this street is the library. However, ONLY when an object is ABSENT, is there a need to 'call' it back into presence. Pointing to a present object with the index finger is the precursor to language. But language itself is born when the game, the berries, the food to be found in the bush, the life-sustaining water in the stream, for some reason, this year, does not appear as usual. It's the ABSENCE of the thing that requires a name for it and this naming is first a 'calling' of it back from its terrifying absence.

    earlymansmall.jpg

    The first words were born in this state of longing, fairly desperate, for absent, 'missing' things. The first words were 'calls' to these things that were suddenly not there. The missing thing needs a name to call it by. The calling of a thing back from absence gave the impetus for replacing it with a word or an artistic representation, formed in mud or drawn on the wall of a dwelling. In the same way, the first naming of human beings was born of the need to call an absent dear-one back to the fold. As long as the circle is complete and all heads are counted, there is no need for names. Only when one is missing, must he or she be given a name and called, probably desperately, back from the danger and into the circle.

    Slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years, words and ideas began to replace all kinds of things, whether they were present or not, so that they could be 'conceived' at will and man would no longer be at their mercy, subject to their loss. As the names of things proliferated, language was required to comprehend the nuances, actions and interactions of things as well as their relatively static, nominal state of being. Thus developed the need for verbs, adjectival and adverbial expressions and well as nominal ones. Over a vast period of time, more and more things with their events, patterns and structures - 'ideas', were 'held in mind' by man and so his brain naturally grew to outsize proportions. At the same time, the power of mute pointing receded and is present to us today as a mere vestige, useful in only the most trivial circumstances of signifying as in the case of my mutely pointing out the library on the street.

    Thus, on loss, absence and a more or less desperate calling, is the modern world of human language strangely founded. And the calling and recalling of longed-for absent things (and others) is exactly what we do all day. 'Primitive' man would be no stranger to us.
  • Sir2u
    2.9k
    The first words were born in this state of longing, fairly desperate, for absent, 'missing' things.Mark Aman

    I would have thought that need would have been a bigger motivator than longing for absent things. It might be that in some cases they overlap, but I doubt that man learned to speak so that he could call the old lady to come home.(Or vise versa so as not to seem sexist)
  • Rich
    3.2k
    Probably the first word was Mama.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    Nuh. It would have been "fuck!"
  • apokrisis
    6.3k
    The first words were born in this state of longing, fairly desperate, for absent, 'missing' things.Mark Aman

    Or before that, the first "words" would have pointed at socially present ideas. So they would have highlighted real possibilities present to both parties at that moment. Or at least present to one mind, and so an attempt to attract the attention of another mind to that sharable focus on doing something social (and thus fairly abstract).

    We get this from observing social communication in chimps especially. There is a lot said in eye gaze, hand gestures and expressive vocalisation. Holding out a hand can mean please share.

    So the crucible of language development would be this basic need - sophisticated co-ordination of behaviour within a co-operative troop structure. And the first thing to refer to would be "things we could be doing" - with at least one mind already thinking about the presence of said possibility.

    Pointing to that which is absent - physically or socially - is then a still more sophisticated level of thought or rationality. And that would require proper articulate speech - words and rules.

    So if grammatical speech is what you are talking about, then the reference to counterfactual possibilities - absences - does look to arise at that point.

    But again, I would argue that the ability to point to some particular social action I have in mind was the fertile ground that got language started.
  • Sir2u
    2.9k
    Nuh. It would have been "fuck!"Banno

    Probably in its old form umpha umpha.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Nuh. It would have been "fuck!"Banno

    Followed by "you."
  • Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    Or "go fuck yourself".

    Clearly language developed very rapidly--we moved from

    umpha umphaSir2u

    to

    fuckBanno

    to
    Followed by "you."Thorongil

    to the more grammatically and anatomically complex "go fuck yourself" all within the first 10 minutes of the dawn of spoken language. Which suggests that there were concepts bubbling up in the forebrain just waiting for verbal expression. One fine day an ambitious neuron burrowed all the way from the prefrontal cortex into Broca's area and VOILA! speech.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Yes, and we can be reasonably certain that "go fuck yourself" was followed by "don't make me smack a bitch" on the part of the first person's interlocutor, as shown in the following diagram:

    d_10_cr_lan_2a.jpg
  • apokrisis
    6.3k
    On a point of neuroscience, swear words are more emotionally expressive vocalisations - said by the cingulate cortex, as it were - rather than prefrontally orchestrated speech acts.

    That is why they feel like involuntary explosions that take some conscious effort to suppress. Or that socially they communicate a state of feeling rather than some cogent meaning.

    This all goes to the evolutionary argument that vocalisation started off at a lower brain level - emotional vocalisation akin to expressive grunts and coos. Then connecting the new higher level brain organisation - developed for "articulate" tool use and tool making - back to that, was the crucial pre-adaptation for grammatical speech acts.

    Broca's area is really just another part of the pre-motor frontal planning hierarchy. So we evolved careful voluntary control over the use of our hands to chip flints and throw spears.

    Rather than neurons burrowing upwards, more important was higher level neurons burrowing down to begin to regulate lower level execution in imaginatively deliberate fashion. The cingulate then was no longer top dog as the rather automatic producer of expressive social noises. The higher brain became the more generalised planner and controller. But still, swear words expose the existence of the old system.
  • Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    Broca's area is really just another part of the pre-motor frontal planning hierarchy. So we evolved careful voluntary control over the use of our hands to chip flints and throw spears.apokrisis

    And to communicate. Some people have to talk with their hands (and not sign language, exactly) and since the development of writing, some people insist on having a stylus, pen, pencil, or keyboard at the ready in order to communicate important stuff. I'm somewhat keyboard dependent.
  • Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    On a point of neuroscience, swear words are more emotionally expressive vocalisations - said by the cingulate cortex, as it were - rather than prefrontally orchestrated speech acts.apokrisis

    Which is why many aphasic stroke victims can curse, but can utter nothing else.
  • apokrisis
    6.3k
    And to communicate.Bitter Crank

    Sure. But in recreating a likely evolutionary sequence, we can be sure that tool-use started a million years ahead of symbolic thought, and hence symbolic communication. Art and decoration only started about 100,000 years ago. But hominids were handy with spears 400,000 years ago, and possibly making fire a million years ago.

    So a selective pressure that led to a lateralisation and tighter organisation of the hominid brain would have had a long time working on motor skills - generalised planning and fine motor control. The evolution of the opposable thumb following the evolution of bipedalism, etc.

    Then speech itself - as further brain specialisation - would be the johnny come lately, piggybacking on that rise in pre-motor specialisation for sequential/serial motor organisation. The main actual changes would be a redesign of the hominid palate, tongue and vocal tract. Our jaws got pulled in, the tongue hunched to fill the palate, the hyoid dropped in ways that created a new choking hazard.

    So in terms of the probable evolutionary trajectory, sign language would have come after vocal language, just like writing and typing did. Signing has disadvantages as the first departure point because - unlike speaking - signing isn't as serially restricted. It has too many degrees of freedom. Speech eliminates those and forces a grammatical structure as a result.

    At least that is my summary of the paleo evidence and the many theories going around.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    What is present can be referred to by the simple act of pointing. Earliest man used this means first and exclusively to refer to what was present, since, like any animal, he was not yet aware of the possibility and power of absence. And of course we still use this means of referring to present things as when I 'point out' which building on this street is the library.Mark Aman

    There's a bias here towards the philosopher's error of treating all language as naming. It isn't. It's far more likely that early language would have been about doing - enticing others to act as a group. It's not absence, but acting together, that leads to language.
  • Galuchat
    810
    All replies to the OP thus far presuppose that language is derived from a communication system, whereas; Popper and Chomsky disagree. Semioticians Lotman and Sebeok think that language developed as a mental modelling system (an adaptation) in Homo habilis, and that speech is an exaptation derived from language (which emerged in Homo sapiens).
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.4k
    I would have thought that need would have been a bigger motivator than longing for absent things.Sir2u

    How is need not a form of "longing for absent things"?
  • Mark Aman
    7
    I agree that I'm oversimplifying the discreet 'nominative' aspect of language to make the description more understandable. These 'first words' were certainly a social event that would naturally lead to agreement and common action in a shared world. However, in order for there to be any mutual 'understanding' of the meaning of these words, the newly minted 'thing' that the word represents must be assumed to exist precisely 'not here' and 'not now' but...
  • Mark Aman
    7
    I'm new to this. Could someone tell me how to quote a person within a post like Banno and Apokrisis did with my quotes above. I can't figure it out. Thanks.
  • Galuchat
    810

    Pick and drag your mouse over the text you want to quote. It becomes highlighted, and a small box labelled "quote" appears near the highlighted text. Pick the box labelled "quote". The quoted text then appears in the input field at the bottom of the web page.
    There are other ways, such as: copy and paste text into the "Quote" menu item above the input field. Hope this helps.
  • Mark Aman
    7
    Pick and drag your mouse over the text you want to quote. It becomes highlighted, and a small box labelled "quote" appears near the highlighted text. Pick the box labelled "quote". The quoted text then appears in the input field at the bottom of the web page.
    There are other ways, such as: copy and paste text into the "Quote" menu item above the input field. Hope this helps.
    Galuchat
    Thanks!
  • Michael Ossipoff
    1.7k


    Longing for absent things like a Saber-Tooth Tiger?

    Michael Ossipoff
  • dramolion
    2
    I suspect (one of) the first word(s) was "autsj" as some meaning of pain/negativity,
    because the loudness of expression of pain make it the most likely to be remembered and understood by the "audience" of the word (when there is no direct context for them to understand the meaning from).
    Another important word must be food/hungry.

    There's a bias here towards the philosopher's error of treating all language as naming. It isn't. It's far more likely that early language would have been about doing - enticing others to act as a group. It's not absence, but acting together, that leads to language.Banno

    Hunting ?
    Most other actions (give, follow, sleep, leave) can much easier be communicated by doing; sleeping can be played(pretended?), leaving can be communicated by pointing away.
  • Sir2u
    2.9k
    How is need not a form of "longing for absent things"?Metaphysician Undercover

    I can long for the girlfriend I had when I was 18, but I don't need her.
    I can long for a peanut butter sandwich, but I don't need one.

    I need food.
    I need water.

    Seems to me there is a bit of a difference.
  • Sir2u
    2.9k
    My comment was serious.Banno

    So we got from Umpha umpha to fuck then fuck you and on to let's go fucky fucky.

    Not a bad days work for early man.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    It was a good day.
  • Banno
    18.6k
    "Fuck" is a fine word...
  • Cavacava
    2.4k
    article-0-0EEB679200000578-561_474x256.jpg

    Homersapien: Scientists have found that D'Oh may have been one of the first words spoken by humans
  • Hanover
    8.8k
    What is present can be referred to by the simple act of pointing. Earliest man used this means first and exclusively to refer to what was present, since, like any animal, he was not yet aware of the possibility and power of absence.Mark Aman

    You sort of made this up. There's no way to know that the first man did.

    I remember when my kids were little, I would point to things and they'd look at my finger. It made sense, considering I was showing them my finger. My cat does the same thing, but she smells my finger. It's sort of how we say hello to each other.

    I don't think Banno was far off in his comment because I think earliest man did in fact prioritize procreation. I'd think when the lady caveman saw the man caveman coming at her in full arousal, she understood what that pointing meant. She would either scamper toward or away depending upon her mood, sort of like how it is now.
  • Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    Margaret Atwood concludes her Madd Addam trilogy with Fuck. Not to give too much away, but the lab-bred new humans--the one where the guys have very large blue penises and the gals' abdomens turn blue when they desire sex--have come in contact with the tiny remnant of our species that had been killed off by the mad scientists' pretty much uniformly fatal virus.

    The new humans, pretty much like us except for the blue business, learned English--quickly; they are quite smart. They wanted to know what "fuck" was. They heard the last of the humans saying it all the time. The humans decided to tell them that fuck was the name of the god Fuck, who oversaw the old world and will oversee the new one as well. So, Fuck took on yet another meaning and is yet another place in speech -- proper noun -- (in addition to being a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb... and of course the universal interjection).
  • Bitter Crank
    11.1k
    Pick and drag your mouse over the text you want to quote.Galuchat

    With respect to language... Your instructions would have made no sense whatsoever to anyone prior to the 1980s. Will it make sense 30 years from now?
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