The Seeds of Speech - Language Origin and Evolution - J. Ait.pdf

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Jean AITCHISON
The Seeds of Speech
Language origin and evolution
© Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Chapter 1: How did language begin?
The origin of language has long been a disreputable study, but recently there has been a
new upsurge of interest. Numerous pieces of evidence, both linguistic and non-linguistic,
must be pieced together as if in a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.
Human language is bizarre: it can cope with any topic, even imaginary ones, and has
more mon with munication than wit(来源:淘豆网[http://m.taodocs.com/p-12361867.html])h the calls of our ape cousins. The
similarities of language and birdsong suggest that sophisticated sound systems may
independently acquire similar features.
The amoeba question is a key issue: whether language started out simple and then
became elaborated, or whether it was intrinsically messy and then got neatened. This ties
in with the question of speed, as to whether language emerged fast, like a rabbit out of a
hat, or slowly over millenn(来源:淘豆网[http://m.taodocs.com/p-12361867.html])ia. This and other questions of language origin need to be
discussed against further background information about language.
Chapter 2: What is language for?
This chapter looked at the role of language. The uses of language are so numerous and
complex in modern society, that its original role was considered by looking at what
language is good at, and what it is bad at.
In spite of the widespread view that language is primarily for conveying info(来源:淘豆网[http://m.taodocs.com/p-12361867.html])rmation,
language is not particularly good at this: it is poor at handling spatial information, and
information about emotions. And even factual information may be false, as humans often
lie. But lying reveals an important property of language, that of displacement-dealing
with absent phenomena.
Language is particularly good in social roles, at maintaining social ties and influencing
others.
The social roles of language lead to a crucial quest(来源:淘豆网[http://m.taodocs.com/p-12361867.html])ion: is language a cultural artefact,
such as table manners, or is it a special inbuilt skill?
Chapter 3: Why do languages differ so much?
This chapter asked why languages differ so much. Flexibility and variation was pointed
out to be an advantage in the animal world, and rigidity a disadvantage, so differences
Page 1
between languages are potentially useful.
Two long-standing views on differences between languages were considered. The Swiss(来源:淘豆网[http://m.taodocs.com/p-12361867.html])
army knife (hard-wired) view proposes that language is a special skill, but has variety
preprogrammed into the system, The Auntie Maggie's remedy (soft-wired) view suggests
that language is acquired via general intelligence, and that it presents problems which are
solved differently by different languages.
But hard versus soft wiring is now a largely outmoded controversy. Many e
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