>>Interesting that Rosa should mention
Lamarckianism in this context, as
I have argued that culture and
language give humans a Lamarckian-like
adaptive mechanism. Culture and language
, symboling, allow inheritance of
acquired, extra-somatic , characteristics.<<

I think that would be a genetic mutation, except a genetic mutation
really only seems to transcend soma, and doesn't actually (Lamarck and
Lysenko weren't completely wrong).

The ability to gesture complexly emerged from our biology and brain
capacity, and this ability to systematize, embed meaning and
communicate symbolically then colonized our well-developed phonetic
abilities (we could chatter like the birds and then we learned to
communicate). Instead of asking what separates us from the apes, we
ought to ask what separates us from a mockingbird or parrot?
Corballis's fascinating book could have been made better had he
collaborated with an articulatory phonologist, like someone at Haskins

I am somewhat skeptical about there ever being an isolated, unitary
'language acquisition device' in humans (such as what Chomsky
theorized without really ever elaborating on or ever pursuing in any
empirical way). In which case, we would possibly be led down the path
of saying individual development of the language recapitulates the
species development without really saying what we meant by that. It's
just another theoretical black box in linguistics.

Rather, I see it as reflecting the plasticity of the brain and the
specialization of 'general learning' before puberty (in fact, from the
time of development in the womb to about the age of 6).


It is often said that speech is what distinguishes us from other
animals. But are we all talk? What if language was bequeathed to us
not by word of mouth, but as a hand-me-down? The notion that language
evolved not from animal cries but from manual and facial
gestures--that, for most of human history, actions have spoken louder
than words--has been around since Condillac. But never before has
anyone developed a full-fledged theory of how, why, and with what
effects language evolved from a gestural system to the spoken word.
Marshaling far-flung evidence from anthropology, animal behavior,
neurology, molecular biology, anatomy, linguistics, and evolutionary
psychology, Michael Corballis makes the case that language developed,
with the emergence of Homo sapiens, from primate gestures to a true
signed language, complete with grammar and syntax and at best
punctuated with grunts and other vocalizations. While vocal utterance
played an increasingly important complementary role, autonomous speech
did not appear until about 50,000 years ago--much later than generally
believed. Bringing in significant new evidence to bolster what has
been a minority view, Corballis goes beyond earlier supporters of a
gestural theory by suggesting why speech eventually (but not
completely!) supplanted gesture. He then uses this milestone to
account for the artistic explosion and demographic triumph of the
particular group of Homo sapiens from whom we are descended. And he
asserts that speech, like written language, was a cultural invention
and not a biological fait accompli. Writing with wit and eloquence,
Corballis makes nimble reference to literature, mythology, natural
history, sports, and contemporary politics as he explains in
fascinating detail what we now know about such varied subjects as
early hominid evolution, modern signed languages, and the causes of
left-handedness.From Hand to Mouthwill have scholars and laymen alike
talking--and sometimes gesturing--for years to come.


 Michael Corballis is a psychologist with a strong interest in
lateralization, handedness, and the origins of language. In this book,
he puts these interests together with a solid and comprehensive survey
of other background material relevant to the origins of language. The
book also pushes Corballis' own specific hypothesis, that human
languages were implemented mainly in manual gestures until about
50,000 years ago, at which point largely vocal language took over as
an invented cultural innovation. This is an argument about the medium
in which linguistic messages were expressed. Corballis believes that
the human capacity for generative syntactic language may possibly be
as old as one million years. The argument is much less about when true
linguistic generativity arose than about the hypothesized relatively
recent switch to the vocal medium.

While conceding that Corballis succeeds in showing that this late
switch to vocal language was possible, it still seems to me to be very
unlikely. Corballis claims that the hominins of 150,000 years ago
communicated mainly by manual gestures, but were (and here he agrees
with the dominant view) biologically essentially the same as modern
humans. Thus, they would have had all the potential of modern babies
for acquiring skilled vocal articulation and control of complex
phonological systems. Vocal language comes very naturally to modern
humans. What took our ancestors so long (about 100,000 years!) to
`discover' the advantages of vocal language? Corballis believes that
vocal language does have advantages over manual language, and this, he
argues, accounts for the displacement of the earlier waves of Homo
sapiens by later waves of the same species, technologically superior
due to possession of the better medium for language. Corballis'
argument is a revamping of a position that used to be common among
archeologists, especially those concentrating on the European Upper
Paleolithic, that truly generative language itself did not emerge
until some 45,000 years ago. At least he does not repeat that
implausible suggestion. Instead, he has pushed the beginning of
generative language back to around the beginning of Homo sapiens,
which does seem plausible, while idiosyncratically sticking with a
much later switch into the modern preferred vocal medium.

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