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Evolution and language

by BORUCH
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BORUCH
#1
Sep26-05, 10:49 AM
P: 1
It seems the study of Evolution is always geared
toward physical matter; but what about language?
If we are so far advanced why are we speaking
a backwards language?
According to history all mankind once spoke biblical
Hebrew which is much more advanced than English, or
any other language; ask the educated.
It seems we devolved not evolved.
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Evo
#2
Sep26-05, 11:04 AM
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Quote Quote by BORUCH
If we are so far advanced why are we speaking
a backwards language?
Are you referring to English? Care to explain what you mean?


According to history all mankind once spoke biblical
Hebrew
which is much more advanced than English, or
any other language; ask the educated.
I don't know where you read about history, but I suggest you check again. Please post what you read that stated this, I'd be interested to see what you've been reading.
marcus
#3
Sep26-05, 11:43 AM
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Quote Quote by Evo
Are you referring to English? Care to explain what you mean?


I don't know where you read about history, but I suggest you check again. Please post what you read that stated this, I'd be interested to see what you've been reading.
the current issue of Science (if I remember right) has an article about recent advances in the methodology of extrapolating language evolution back in time



Evo, on another point, have you noticed an increasingly hostile invasion of science discussion boards by non-science traditionalists? these are people who place faith in one or another codified authority, instead of in empirical testing of ideas, and they have gotten more aggressive lately in some other venues.

Evo, do you have access to the journal Science? I don't have a subscription. I am interested in the techniques being developed to extrapolate back and reconstruct ancestral languages. This was already pretty far advanced in the 1980s and 1990s, but I gather there has been progress since then.

matthyaouw
#4
Sep26-05, 11:51 AM
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Evolution and language

Quote Quote by BORUCH
If we are so far advanced why are we speaking
a backwards language?
How do you mean advanced?
Also, what is wrong with the language(s) used today? They seem to suit our purposes just fine.

Quote Quote by BORUCH
It seems we devolved not evolved.
One- Evolution is evolution whether it is a change from the simple to the complex or the complex to the simple. There is no such thing as de-evolution.
Two- Can you provide any evidence that changes in language use are inherited and passed on genetically? I think it's more likely to be a cultural phenomenon than a biological one.
russ_watters
#5
Sep26-05, 12:04 PM
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Languages definitely evolve, but "advance" is probably a pretty subjective term, unless you just want to limit it to complexity.
Evo
#6
Sep26-05, 12:15 PM
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Quote Quote by marcus
the current issue of Science (if I remember right) has an article about recent advances in the methodology of extrapolating language evolution back in time
You are correct as always. "EVOLUTION: Pushing the Time Barrier in the Quest for Language Roots", and no I don't have access to Science. [off topic rant]We're having a barbecue here at work and the insides of my burger just landed on my chest & lap. Back later.[/off topic rant]
loseyourname
#7
Oct3-05, 01:00 AM
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I think I know what this guy is saying. Modern languages tend to lose inflection, which makes them less elegant (from my perspective, anyway). They become context-dependent and more ambiguous. I can certainly relate to the superiority of ancient Greek for many purposes. The use of declension allows for syntax independent of word order, which makes it far easier to compose and remember poetry. It was superior for its purposes in an oral culture before they had written writing.

There is also a purity in ancient languages, where rules are followed more closely, with less exceptions, and there aren't as many loan words. Latin (if you consider it an ancient language) in its literary form borrowed heavily from Greek, but the grammar and syntax was similar in the two languages, allowing for a continuity of the rules for using the language. With a fully modern language like English, we do not see this. Although a Germanic language, it has none of the inflection of other Germanic languages, and also borrows nearly half of its words from French (due to the Norman conquest). Because of the discontinuity of heritage, English can be rather frustrating when trying to do something such as construct plurals, conjugate verbs, form adjectives from nouns, and so forth. Rules are haphazard and often broken, something that we don't see so much in ancient languages.

On the other hand, because of the richness of its heritage, English is a great literary language. For just about any concept one can dream up, there is either a word that already exists, or you can choose from any number of roots in the many languages from which English draws to create a new word (and the official keepers of the language regularly update the language to include new words). Although the context-dependency and syntax based on word order can stifle creativity with the rhythm of language, many words have such a rich etymology, rife with connotation, that imagery and metaphors work terrifically in English.

In short, English is great for some purposes, and ancient languages (at least Greek - which is the only one I actually know, though I know that other ancient Indo-European languages are similar in the respects I've laid out) are better for other purposes.

Before I go, though, I have to say that the single biggest drawback of English (also due to the variety of sources from which it draws) is spelling. Every 'rule' is broken with regularity and some spellings/pronunciations just don't make any sense. If you are not already familiar with how things are supposed to sound or be spelled, it is nearly impossible to figure out just from reading or hearing the word. The only other language I've come across where spelling is so difficult is Irish.
Phobos
#8
Oct25-05, 04:22 PM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
I think I know what this guy is saying.
Wonderful post, loseyourname, but are you sure about this? Seems like the OP is just taking the Bible literally and mistakenly assuming that evolution means progress.
loseyourname
#9
Oct25-05, 05:36 PM
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Quote Quote by Phobos
Wonderful post, loseyourname, but are you sure about this? Seems like the OP is just taking the Bible literally and mistakenly assuming that evolution means progress.
Well yeah, that's possible. It was certainly never the case that the entire world spoke Hebrew, and there is no sense in which language can be said to have 'devolved.' I'm not entirely sure what that would even mean. Perhaps that modern languages have begun to develop in a direction toward proto-linguistic utterances with less sophistication than written ancient languages? I'm no linguist, but I'm pretty certain that that is not the case. I do try to give posters the benefit of the doubt, however, so I just went off the assumption that he was being imprecise but did have a useful comment to make.
zoobyshoe
#10
Nov8-05, 11:16 PM
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Quote Quote by Phobos
Wonderful post, loseyourname...
I have to agree. A stunningly fine post. I'm impressed.

(Would have said something sooner, but just now opened this thread for the first time.)
selfAdjoint
#11
Nov9-05, 09:42 AM
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Quote Quote by loseyourname
There is also a purity in ancient languages, where rules are followed more closely, with less exceptions, and there aren't as many loan words. Latin (if you consider it an ancient language) in its literary form borrowed heavily from Greek, but the grammar and syntax was similar in the two languages, allowing for a continuity of the rules for using the language. With a fully modern language like English, we do not see this. Although a Germanic language, it has none of the inflection of other Germanic languages, and also borrows nearly half of its words from French (due to the Norman conquest). Because of the discontinuity of heritage, English can be rather frustrating when trying to do something such as construct plurals, conjugate verbs, form adjectives from nouns, and so forth. Rules are haphazard and often broken, something that we don't see so much in ancient languages.
I have to demur. Greek is anything but pure. They have two different ways of declining nouns, the normal indo-european way and the "ma" way which they picked up somewhere in their history. And the second aorist is a completely arbitrary set of verb forms tacked onto existing forms. The only comparison in English is the conjugation of "to be".

And the features of English you consider weaknesses, I consider strengths which provide a rich armory of tools for the writer and speaker. I think the high repute of English poetry around the world testifies to the virtues of English as an expressive language.

I am currently reading an excellent book called Empires of the Word. It concerns the history of languages, but it is a thoroughly modern work. I doesn't use an evolutionary or ladder model but considers the political, technical and cultural impacts that favored one language - for a while - and doomed another one. Generally this attitude, which stresses human complexity over simple linear models, is more to my taste.
Jimmy Snyder
#12
Nov9-05, 01:17 PM
P: 2,179
Quote Quote by loseyourname
If you are not already familiar with how things are supposed to sound or be spelled [in English], it is nearly impossible to figure out just from reading or hearing the word.
The Chinese say that English is writen with pictographics.
Mike M
#13
Sep1-11, 03:29 PM
P: 6
Thank you for the delightful commentary!

I'd like to note that many species communicate through context-dependent signals, one signal having different meanings in different social or activity-based situations.

Only a minority of social communication is transmitted through verbal language. Loseyourname overcomes that problem with concision. If you know French, you know a language which is far more context-dependent than the English of highly educated users.

The French keep an official tight rein on their language, while The Queen's and Amerenglish can embrace neologisms with breathtaking speed.

I happen to know a couple of Irish, and Gaelic appears more specific to, and like formal French and colloquial English, often more lapsed in pronunciation in relation to its written form.

Evolution can generally be described as adaptation to the recent or local environment.
It includes the devolution of parasites and other symbiotes into simpler forms.

Language is safe from loss, unless spelling conforms to texting shortcuts, as it seems to have done even to relative professionals in their efforts to socially signal those literate in only that colloquial form. That's possibly due to heritable behavior related to sexual selection in our social species!
Evo
#14
Sep1-11, 03:49 PM
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You just responded to a thread that ended 6 years ago. Please be more careful.


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