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Communication, speech and language

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Lecture . The dawn of languages

The origin of language, known in linguistics as glottogony, is the onset (начало) in the prehistory of human communication. It also means the ability of humans to use language. There are a number of hypotheses surrounding the origin of language, but each is speculative. Being located so early in human prehistory, it left no direct historical traces and no comparable processes. The evolution of a fully modern human language requires the development of vocal tract used for speech production and cognitive abilities required to produce linguistic utterances. It is mostly undisputed that pre-human australopithecs did not have communication systems significantly different from those found in great apes in general. Some scholars assume the development of primitive language-like systems (proto-language) with Homo habilis (человек умелый), a species of the genus Homo, who lived from approximately 2.3 million years ago at the beginning of the Pleistocene period, while others place the development of primitive symbolic communication only with Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago), and the development of language proper with Homo sapiens sapiens less than 100,000 years ago.

Many scientists make a distinction between speech and language. They believe that language (as a context for communication, and primarily as a cognitive ability to form concepts and communicate them) was developed earlier in human evolution, and speech (one of the forms of communication) was developed much later. The presence of speech (without language) is also possible in some cases of human mental retardation (like Specific Language Impairment) and is also known in the animal kingdom. For instance, talking birds are able to imitate human speech with varying ability. However, this ability to mimic human sounds is very different from the acquisition of syntax. Likewise, the production of speech sounds is not necessary for language use, as evidenced by modern sign languages, which use manual symbols and facial grammar as a basis for language rather than speech. Morse coding system, and the system of the Marine Signal Flags are other forms of communication, but not necessarily language. Cooper, James Fenimore wrote much about American Indians who could read natural and artificial sighns and translate them into their own language.

The distinction between communication and language is also important. For instance, the communicative system of monkeys has been studied extensively. They are known to make up to ten different vocalizations. Many of these are used to warn other members of the group about approaching predators. They include a "leopard call", a "snake call", and an "eagle call", and each call triggers a different defensive strategy. However, these communications are in direct response to a stimulus in the immediate environment, and are not an instance of higher-level reference. Apes in captivity show similar communicative abilities, having been taught rudimentary signs from American Sign Language (but not the actual syntax and the use of lexigrams) —symbols that do not graphically resemble their corresponding words— and computer keyboards. Some apes, such as Kanzi, have been able to learn and use hundreds of lexigrams. However, while these apes are able to learn a basic syntactic and referential system, their communications lack the complexity of a full language.




It has been also suggested that the key feature of human language is the ability to ask questions. Some animals (notably bonobos and chimpanzees), who learned to communicate with their human trainers (using mostly visual forms of communication), demonstrated that they have the ability to correctly respond to complex questions and requests, but they failed to ask even the simplest questions themselves. Conversely, human children are able to ask their first questions (using only question intonation) at the babbling period of their development, long before they start using syntactic structures. It is crucially important that although babies from different cultures acquire native languages from their social environment, all languages of the world without exception – tonal, non-tonal, intonational and accented – use similar rising “question intonation” for yes-no questions.[7][8] This fact is a strong proof of the universality of question intonation.

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