Tuesday, July 2, 2024

No, a Transition from Non-Human to Human is Not Possible

Assorted retorts from yahoo boards and elsewhere: No, a Transition from Non-Human to Human is Not Possible · Creation vs. Evolution: Origin of Language · New blog on the kid: Palaeolithic Post-Flood or 2957 to 2607 BC, Language, Yes

When did hominids outside East Asia start to use language although it is simplified and basic compared to human languages?

Answer requested by
Asa Dahl

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
Did you mean Homo erectus? In East Asia (China, Java)?

First, the dates given for Homo erectus are 1.4 million years ago to 110 000 years ago. Those evolution believing palaeontologists would probably say Homo erectus spoke, and if Homo erectus spoke, it’s guaranteed to have happened before Homo erectus got extinct.

I would agree Homo erectus spoke. I would not agree on when he lived, I’d say all of those skeleta were dated in sth other than carbon 14, often enough K-Ar, and the time in Earth’s 7000+ long history when exaggerated K-Ar dates are most probable is 2957 BC, a k a Flood of Noah.

Obviously, you might disagree. But I’d challenge you on an idea you expressed; “starting to use language, although it is simplified and basic compared to human languages” …

Is that even possible? Conceptually? Are square circles possible?

You didn’t say “simplified and basic compared to civilised languages” but “compared to human languages” … it’s not about having or lacking words for your favourite type of social hierarchy typical of your own favoured civilisation, like “direct vassal of the king, not knighted = squire” or “politician, not elected = candidate” … it’s not about having or lacking words for your favourite type of dish, whether it’s sushi or boeuf bourguignon with aligot (I like both, btw). It’s about language structure.

I’ll give a little list of complexities of human language:

  • It’s a three tier system : phonemes without meanings combine to morphemes, with meanings, but not as a complete message, whether notional or pragmatic. Then it’s the morphemes and their meanings that combine to the messages. CH doesn’t mean anything. CHERRIES means sth, but so what? “I like cherries”, “I ate cherries yesterday”, “give me some cherries, please!” is the third level which makes complete sense.
  • It can be used to express notions, not just pragmatic or emotive.
  • It can be used with negation, absence from here-and-now(past, future, elsewhere), conditionalities.
  • It can build phrases by extending already existing phrases (recursivity). “This is the mouse that ate the malt that lay on the floor in the house that Jack built” is recursivity featuring “that” …

This is basically a complete list of the complexities of purely human language. Which of these would be lacking to that “it is simplified and basic” version? I’d say, lacking just one of these features would make it useless. Lacking the first would make the other ones impossible, lacking any of the other ones would make the first useless or even a liability.

Is it possible for aliens to be so advanced that human languages sound primitive to them, similar to how cavemen's language sounds to us now?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
“Similar to how cavemen’s language sounds to us now”?

W a i t … you went to 20 000 BP to a Cro-Magnon or to 500 000 BP to a Homo erectus, in a time machine? You had a recorder, and made sure to record their language?

You took the recorder back to our times and checked with ten independent witnesses that the language of cavemen back then sounds primitive to all ten of them, not just to you?

I’d like to see you publish a paper on that one!

Or did you simply take your impression of how cavemen’s languages sounded from a Comic book by Roger Lecureux, and André Cheret called Rahan?[1] He doesn’t use personal pronouns, but “Rahan” instead of “I” and the name of the other instead of “you”? Plus how Rahan makes the most cumbrously descriptive and poetic phrases for concepts you just have a word for? As far as I know, Lecureux and Cheret had no time machine, they just had an ideology!

Or, if you weren’t in the French cultural sphere, but more the American one, perhaps the cavemen in Pal-Ul-Don using the language of the great apes, when speaking to Tarzan.[2] Also has no personal pronouns. Has no negations either. Crucially, is only shown functioning in comic books based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s novels in situations where negations are not needed. Because that language would not function.

Sweden is in the cross-over of the influence, so I grew up with both Rahan and Tarzan, by the way.

Now, crucially, Edgar Rice Burroughs also had no time machine, but also had an ideology. Both he and Lecureux were Darwinists. Edgar more in the older Racist vein, Lecureux in the Communist, even Euro-Communist vein. As Darwinists they imagined there must have existed a cavemen’s language that would sound very primitive to us. They had no time machine to prove it, though.


[1] Rahan (comics) - Wikipedia
[2] Tarzan in comics - Wikipedia

Is a language more primitive if it reflects a more primitive society or lacks sounds that English has?

Hans-Georg Lundahl
amateur linguist
Well, no.

Going from hunter-gatherer to agriculture involves inventing or reusing words for the new items, but not restructuring the verb paradigm. Or sentence structure.

Lacking a sound that English has is a question of sound aesthetics, just like having a sound that English lacks.

On the former of these, some take Indo-European as reconstructed as an example, but part of it is, the reconstruction for many linguist is in codes, not sounds, when it comes for instance to the Laryngeal theory (though I have seen attempts to identify H1, H2 and H3 phonetically too), and part of it is, roots rather than full words (consisting of root plus extensions) are given because the reconstructor from different branches of Indo-European is not sure which of the extensions was originally used with that root.

I’ll give an example within Germanic. Water has the extension R in English, Dutch, German. In Scandinavian it has N instead. Vatten in Swedish, for instance. In this case, the supposed Proto-Indo-European was a fluctuation between R and NT (hudor hudatos from hudor *hudntos in Greek), which we see in iter, itineris, iecur, iecinoris …

EDIT: for water / vatten, and the Latin examples just given (way, liver), it’s more like a switch between R and N, but in Greek hudor hudatos we do have R / NT, and we also probably have that in a third person plural ending, most versions having NT, but the Perfect Indicative Active third person plural has either ERE or ERUNT (the latter combining R with NT).

EDIT 2: apart from the highly disturbing (visually speaking) H1, H2, H3, there is another feature, this time for real in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European which makes it seem more primitive to some, namely lack of vowel in words like KMTOM (first syllable KM) or (as mentioned, second syllable) HUDNTOS (WUDNTOS[1] instead of WEDNOS), or like KRDIYEH[2] — but there are civilised languages today with exactly the same feature. German tends in some dialects to pronounce HABEN as HABN (or HABM or HAM-N) with a syllablic N (or M), and Czech and Croatian regularly have syllabic L in Czech vlk[3] or R in Croatian Krk.[4]

[1] ὕδωρ - Wiktionary, the free dictionary
[2] καρδία - Wiktionary, the free dictionary
[3] Vlk obecný – Wikipedie
[4] Krk - Wikipedia

Is a language more primitive if it reflects a more primitive society or lacks sounds that English has?

Marcus Geduld
Widely-read science buff.
Wed, 3.VII.2024
I’m not sure what you mean by a language reflecting a primitive society. Do you mean that it’s used by people in a more primitive society?

All languages lack sounds that are used in other languages. For instance, English does not have the “ch” sound that in Hebrew words like “challah.” Nor does it have the click sound that linguists notate as “!” in ǃKung languages. Nor does it have the rolled R’s used in Spanish.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
I mean one that’s primarily used in a more “primitive” society, like one that’s primarily used by hunter gatherers.

Supposing you call that primitive.

Marcus Geduld
Any linguist will tell you that all languages are equally sophisticated. They have to be, in order to work grammatically. And once you you have grammatical structure, everything else follows. The rest is just vocabulary. Which sounds are employed is arbitrary. Think of it as the verbal equivalent of fonts.

And anyone who has studied hunter gathers can tell you that the complexity of their lives is immense. The level of knowledge they have to have (on an individual and tribal level) about their natural surroundings is stunning. And they need language capable of communicating that complexity.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Ah, I think I have heard that somewhere.

May I quote your answer on my blog, please, pretty please?

And a very happy 4th of July!

Marcus Geduld

Hans-Georg Lundahl

I did:

No, a Transition from Non-Human to Human is Not Possible

Marcus Geduld
If you get a chance, please clarify that I do not agree that a transition from non-human to human is impossible. I believe its both possible and that it occurred.



Hans-Georg Lundahl
Your comment is getting copied, hope that is clarification enough.

If you like a debate on the question, how about answering another quora question and linking to your answer where the debate is better held?

Not shared. A linguist had answered no languages are more primitive, I asked if I could share it and revealed the context, and well, my comment was taken down and adding comments was disabled. They agree that languages are not observed as being more primitive. They don't agree on my conclusions, and they are not very able to argue against them, so they prefer to shun the debate.

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