Language Evolved due to an "animal connection"?

New hypothesis of language evolution. Language Evolved due to an "animal connection" according to Pat Shipman:

Next, the need to communicate that knowledge about the behavior of prey animals and other predators drove the development of symbols and language around 200,000 years ago, Shipman suggests.

For evidence, Shipman pointed to the early symbolic representations of prehistoric cave paintings and other artwork that often feature animals in a good amount of detail. By contrast, she added that crucial survival information about making fires and shelters or finding edible plants and water sources was lacking.

"All these things that ought to be important daily information are not there or are there in a really cursory, minority role," Shipman noted. "What that conversation is about are animals."

Of course, much evidence is missing, because "words don't fossilize," Shipman said. She added that language may have arisen many times independently and died out before large enough groups of people could keep it alive.

Nothing but wild conjecture as usual but still interesting.

Original article here.

  • The earliest cave paintings and sculptures that have been found were dated to 40,000 - 30,000 years ago, not to 200,000 years ago. The cave paintings mostly show animals, the most popular genre of early sculpture depicted fat naked women. It's rather obvious that early artists strove to represent that which they considered cool. "Look at that bull, THAT's a bull!" Or "look at those gigantic..." OK, I don't know what the posting policy here is, so I'll leave it at that.

    I would guess that language developed much earlier than art. As a consequence, cave art probably can't tell us much about the development of language.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    No. I think we evolved language and intelligence so that we could deceive each other. Through out most of history, both language and intelligence has been used to engage in sophistry, the purpose of which to allow this or that group of people to be in charge (and to parasitize) all other people.

  • Abelard Lindsey

    Even Nicholas Wade, in his book "Before the Dawn", admits that one effect and possibly purpose of the agricultural revolution was to allow for the emergence of a parasite (priesthood) class.

  • I'd like to suggest that, rather that humans "evolving" language and intelligence, as the
    previous poster suggested, that instead early protolanguage served mainly as a signal of
    fitness (not an entirely revolutionary idea). This system may have been complex to learn,
    and required a large investment of energy to learn and reproduce. So, the individual who
    was able to learn to perceive and reproduce a complex set of protolinguistic sequences
    was signalling their cognitive fitness - essentially, they were signalling "Wow, I am
    really clever and fit - I can afford to spend time and energy on learning this
    protolinguistic system - I must be a great person to collaborate with".

    Crucially, I argue that it's collaboration, or affiliation, which drove this system. This
    system would have undergone social selection, and so would have gained currency in
    interactions. We can take some inspiration from birdsong and the Developmental Stress
    Hypothesis when considering this - male birds use song to signal fitness to prospective
    partners. Their song is an unfakeable signal of fitness - if they have suffered some
    perturbation in development, their song will suffer as they do not have the mechanisms to
    allow them to learn to create a complex song. So, protolanguage may have behaved in this
    way for humans.

    In fact, a 2008 study by Boogert et al has presented the first evidence of a link between
    a bird?s song complexity and its speed at learning. They recorded and analysed birdsong
    on a variety of complexity measures - things like total number of song phase elements,
    average song phase duration, total number of elements, and number of unique elements,
    per song phase. They then presented the birds with a novel foraging task which required
    them to forage for seeds in four levels of difficulty. This required that the birds learn
    a new skill and apply their learning in progressive levels of difficulty. Results showed
    that total number of song phase elements was a significant predictor of learning
    performance, with males whose song phases contained more elements requiring fewer trials
    to solve the final level in the foraging task (Boogert et al 2008: 1738-9). This seems
    to support the idea that human protolanguage ability may have signalled (cognitive)
    fitness, and by extension, their usefulness as a collaborative partner.

    So, I'd like to turn the previous suggestion on its head, and suggest it was
    collaboration, not sophistry or coercion, which drove language evolution.

  • The full reference for Boogert et al is:

    Boogert, N.J., Giraldeau, L.A., & Lefebre, L. (2008). Song complexity correlates with learning ability in zebra finch males. Animal Behaviour, 76, 1735 - 1741

    Definitely recommended, it's a really neat, nicely done experiment.