Linguistic Evolution Research Paper

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The complex relationship between evolution as a general theory and language is discussed here from two points of view. The first concerns the isomorphism of the basic structure of evolutionary theory in biology and linguistics. The many languages in the world fall into coherent groups of successively deeper level and wider membership, e.g., the Romance languages and the Germanic languages at a more superficial level are both themselves subgroups of the wider Indo-European language family. Similarly in biology groupings like the orders of primate, the Felidae (catlike animals), and others are subgroups of the larger class of mammals. The existence of such hierarchies in both fields is accounted for by a similar dynamic process of change and differentiation through time. The second major topic is the unique and basic role of language in the evolution of communication.

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1. The Parallel Between Biological And Linguistic Evolution

The essential resemblance, or homology of structure, between biology and linguistics is based on the equating of languages to species and dialects to varieties. In both fields somewhat similar criteria are employed to distinguish these levels and in both cases they have a penumbra of vagueness. In biology membership in the same species is defined by the possibility of fertile interbreeding. In linguistics, a language is defined by the test of mutual intelligibility. The vagueness in both cases derives from the fact that we are striving to capture by definitions the distinctions of two levels, species and variety, language and dialect, when in fact in both cases we are dealing with a dynamic process. The variety of today is the species of tomorrow and the dialect of today is the language of tomorrow.

1.1 Transformationism Versus Creationism

The transformational meaning of evolution arises from the considerations involved in any class of phenomena in which the investigator is confronted by the existence of a variety of kinds or species. In such instances there are two fundamentally different types of theory to account for the existence of distinct kinds. According to the creationist view the distinctness of species is explained as issuing from distinctive creative acts. Species can be created or destroyed but they cannot give rise to other and new species since this would change their essential characteristics. When confronted with fossil evidence that the species of different geological epochs were, in general, similar although distinct, the creationist necessarily denied that any lines of development connected them. The theory thus adopted was called ‘catastrophism,’ namely that by a succession of cataclysms earlier species had been destroyed and were replaced by more recent ones through new creative acts.

The evolutionary theory of transformation of species on the contrary maintained that there are no fixed bounds to variation. Therefore earlier species give rise to later ones by the process of developmental evolutionary change. The fact that in life forms species fall into coherent larger groupings, the genera, and that groups of genera then form distinct families and so on in an ordered hierarchy receives a distinctive transformationist explanation.

According to transformationist theory, those species that belong to the same genus are the differentiated descendants of a single ancestral species, their resemblance being explained by common descent. The resemblances among genera that belong to the same family are explained in turn by the theory that the species ancestral to each genus are descendants of a still earlier form ancestral to the whole family, and similarly with larger and taxonomically higher groupings. Fossil forms are then either ancestors of existing groupings or additional lines of descent that have become extinct without leaving descendants.

The model of evolution that emerges is that of a branching tree. The varieties of today are like twigs that, as they sprout, become the species of tomorrow. The theory of evolution as transformation applies both to linguistic and biological evolution. This resemblance was noted by Darwin himself in The Descent of Man (1871, p. 40) and had indeed been noted earlier by Lyell (1863), the founder of modern geology. As Darwin states: ‘the formation of different languages and of distinct species and that both have been developed through a gradual process is curiously parallel.’

In linguistics the creationist view is represented by the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel, according to which all language differences were created at the same time by the confusion of tongues. By not noting that languages fall into coherent groups like the Germanic languages etc., and that these in turn function as units within higher level units in an ordered hierarchy, the Biblical account which reigned supreme until nearly the end of the eighteenth century was inferior to its creationist counterpart in Linnaean biology, which did note the coherence in biological classification but simply ascribed this coherence to a divine plan to produce such groupings.

Perhaps because the Babel theory more egregiously failed to account for such groupings, the creationist account was superseded earlier in linguistics than biology. The event that marks most clearly the triumph of transformationism over creationism in linguistics was the recognition that the resemblance among the languages we now call Indo-European is to be explained as a result of common inheritance with differential changes from an extinct ancestral form of speech which in later terminology was called Proto-Indo-European. The acceptance of this theory is usually but somewhat arbitrarily dated from a statement of Sir William James, an eminent British official in India, in 1786. In fact, in regard to the Finno-Ugric languages this explanation had been advanced and accepted some years earlier. Thus the recognition of transformation in linguistics substantially antedates its acceptance in biology.

Probably the chief factors in the relatively earlier acceptance of this type of explanation in linguistics as compared to biology is the vastly more rapid rate of change in language. The commonsense objection that actual changes in species had never been observed in historic times and that, to all appearances, they were fixed appears to have been the most powerful factor in the rejection of transformationism by biologists in the period preceding Darwin. Darwin in turn appealed to languages as an exemplification of the reality of the process of transformation he proposed in regard to life forms (cf. Alter 1999).

Language within the realm of individual experience and unaided by records from an earlier period seems fixed on the whole, but not to the same degree. Older people can recall vocabulary items that were current in their youth but are now no longer heard.

These changes, apparently small within the lifetime of a single person, display powerful cumulative effects in periods of time within the scope of human records. Thus Anglo-Saxon (Old English) exhibits differences from modern English over a period of about 1,200 years, comparable to that between English and German at the present time. If Anglo-Saxon and modern English were spoken contemporaneously they would undoubtedly rank as separate languages. It was possible then to note in this historically well-documented instance the change of one language into another. Moreover there are earlier records of German also in the form of Old High German and Old Low German. These languages are both far more similar to Anglo-Saxon than modern English is to contemporary German. Thus one could actually observe a convergence as one went back in time, the mirror image as it were of the hypothetical divergence in time from a single common ancestor.

In general, languages ancestral to existing groups of genetically related languages, which would correspond to fossils in biology, take us back to periods before the existence of written records. However, in the well-known instance of Latin, there are abundant records of a language which through a series of locally different variants has given rise to the existing diversity of Romance local dialects and standard languages. In view of these well-known facts, it was not too audacious a step to assume that in similar fashion an ancestral language had once existed bearing the relation to the existing branches of Indo-European that Latin does to Romance speech forms. It thus becomes a mere historical accident that Latin survived in written form, whereas Proto-Indo-European, which was spoken before the existence of writing, could not be known through such evidence.

The transmission of physical characteristics by the genetic mechanism corresponds to the transmission of language by learning from one generation to the next. In both cases variations arise, some of which are perpetuated. In both instances geographical isolation whether complete or imperfect is the usual factor in the perpetuation of different variants, although linguistic isolation of social groups in the same territory also occurs. Difficulties of determining where a variety ends and species begins, difficulties that were important factors in Darwin’s disillusionment with creationist theory, resemble the linguistic difficulty in defining language as against dialect. Ultimately these variant descendants become sufficiently distinct as to be indisputably ranked as separate languages or species.

The status of transformationalist explanations of linguistic similarities was further enhanced by the largely successful reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European where, as is usually the case, the ancestral language was not known from written records. This enterprise received a great impetus through the discovery that in certain respects, especially the sound system, changes were not haphazard but rather showed a surprising degree of regularity.

The enterprise of reconstructing Proto-Indo-European and the laying of the foundations of the comparative method that underlies it was essentially carried out by the so-called Neogrammarian School of the 1870s and the 1880s.

1.2 Cladistics In Linguistics And Biology

In the course of laying out more explicit methods of historical comparison and reconstruction the Neogrammarian School developed the notion that only those changes which were innovations, not those which were retentions, were relevant in classification. The period in which what marked one subgroup as a development distinct from that of another was defined by the different set of changes that each was undergoing from a common original. Retentions were simply inherited features that persisted from the common period.

This was indeed the very point made by Willi Hennig (1966) the founder of cladistics in modern biology, some 70 years later. However, in linguistics as in biology, it is not easy in many instances to distinguish innovations from retentions. For example, for a long period it was held that the Italic and Celtic branches of Indo-European shared an important innovation that helped to define a separate Italo-Celtic branch of Indo-European, namely the formation of a passive voice in -r. However, when Tokharian in Chinese Turkestan was discovered from documents as a new branch of Indo-European in the 1930s, it was found to have a passive in -r but hardly anything that would otherwise affiliate it with Italic or Celtic.

1.3 Analogy And Homology In Linguistic And Biological Evolution

Just as transformationism is a dynamic interpretation in time of the hierarchy based on differences and shared similarities in languages, so the creationist view of fixed species is implied in the use of properties for classification with typological rather than genetic relevance. Once again there is a parallelism between biology and linguistics. In the terminology of biology, we wish to distinguish between homologies that are similarities which are the outcome of common descent, and analogies that result from convergence usually through similarity of function and are irrelevant to historical classification.

In language it is possible to define two kinds of criteria that define the difference between homologies and analogies. The former are those that involve sound and meaning simultaneously, while the latter concern sound in abstraction from meaning or meaning in abstraction from sound. Thus the resemblance between English nose and German Nase involves both sound and meaning. If supported by a reasonably large number of other resemblances of the same kind, these forms are then said to be ‘cognates,’ i.e., related. Such cognates are the basis for drawing the conclusion of a common origin of English and German.

An example of resemblances of sound without meaning is the existence of tonal systems, i.e., systems in which pitch difference distinguishes semantically different meaningful elements if we simply take these systems as such abstracting the sounds from the meanings of the words being compared. An example of meaning without sound is the existence of sex gender in two different languages where we disregard the sounds by which the differences between masculine and feminine are expressed.

The latter criteria, sound without meaning and meaning without sound are called typological by linguists; these criteria define types of languages e.g., tonal vs. non-tonal, gender vs. non-gender. The use of typological criteria for genetic linguistic classification requires the assumption that certain features like the essential as opposed to the accidental features of the creationists are fixed and define the species; or in this instance the language family. Thus if we state that tonalism is a requirement for membership in a particular linguistic stock we are assuming that a tonal language can never become a non-tonal language. If this were true monogenesis would be refuted. We would initially have two or more languages, each of which would have tonality or non-tonality as an essential attribute and would be incapable of either acquiring tonality where it was lacking or losing it where it was present. This is the analogue of the notion of fixed species.

Once it is realized that a classification based on gender or non-gender is similar in principle to a biological classification into flying and non-flying animals, we see that a Semitic language which ceases to have triconsonantal roots does not cease to be a Semitic language by descent, any more than a bat ceased to be a mammal when it acquired the property of flight.

1.4 Differences Between Linguistic And Biological Evolution

Thus far the discussion has stressed the basic parallel between linguistics and biological evolution. However, there are significant differences, mostly in the contrast between genetic and social transmission. There is not only lineal transmission of languages to one’s biological offspring but also lateral transmission in that speakers are capable of bilingual, or indeed multilingual behavior. Thus a child may acquire a language that is not the native language of its parents. Moreover, unlike the genome which is fixed at birth, speakers may borrow words and grammatical forms which are part of the inherited language of another group of speakers with whom they have come in contact, and which may in turn be transmitted to their own offspring as part of their native language acquired from their parents. The closest analogue to this in biological evolution is hybridization. In the animal kingdom hybrids are usually infertile but in the plant kingdom this is not invariably so.

1.5 Language, Natural Selection, And The Notion Of Progress In Language

The theory of evolution in its Darwinian form not only espoused transformationist as against the creationist notion of fixed species, but also suggested as its main mechanism natural selection in order to provide a plausible account of the transformation of species. The concept of the transformation of species was, of course, not new. Lamarck, for one, had already espoused it at least 50 years before Darwin.

Now as Darwin states repeatedly, the descendants of a particular life form are, through the agency of natural selection, likely to be more efficient though this of course is relative to a particular environment. There is, however, still implicit in the notion of natural selection the theory of long-term advance in the series of life forms.

It is true, moreover, that the paleontological evidence as we go back in time becomes increasingly confined to forms of relatively simple and undifferentiated structure and of a more limited range of adaption to the environment. It was precisely one of the recommendations of the theory of natural selection that it helped to make this temporal advance intelligible.

This aspect of evolutionary theory has also been applied to language. The new linguistic forms that arise continually in any linguistic community may then be likened to variations, only the fittest of which survive and become incorporated in the language. Lyell (1863) in his elaborate comparison of language to biological species, noted also that the spread of specific languages over wide areas resembles the biological processes of adaptive radiation and the extinction of species. Natural selection as applied to language would then involve an intralinguistic struggle for survival among forms within the language and an interlinguistic struggle among languages in which some spread and produce descendants while others perish.

Regarding the intralinguistic struggle it appears that many changes are functionally indifferent, and that while certain changes make for greater efficiency there are certain outcomes of normal processes of change, such as grammatical irregularities and semantic ambiguities, which are functionally negative. Taking linguistic change as a whole there seems to be no discernible movement towards greater efficiency such as might be expected if in fact there were a continuous struggle in which superior linguistic innovations won out as a general rule.

Similarly it can be seen that one language succeeds another not because it is more advanced as a language, but for extralinguistic reasons of the military, economic, or cultural superiority of its speakers. This is not to say that there are not important differences between languages that have been the object of literary cultivation and those that have not, and those that possess an extensive technical vocabulary and those which do not. However, such differences are but reflections of non-linguistic differences. They affect nothing basic in the language itself. Any language is capable of literary expression or technical expansion if non-linguistic circumstances encourage or require it.

The question that has just been discussed relates to another way in which languages of the present do not conform to one of the basic aspects of evolutionary theory in biology. A theory which regarded all species as interconnected, but which posited some mammalian form as the primitive ancestral type for all life whence descended in one line all the other vertebrates and in another the ancestor of all non-vertebrate phyla, and in which plants and Protozoa first appeared in the most recent period, would be a strange evolutionary theory. In addition to the notion of transformation of species that of progress or advance of some kind is inherent in the notion of natural selection. In general we are dealing with the increase in the range and variety of adjustment to the environment. Among the developments that may be considered advances there are, on the perceptual side the ability to respond to finer differences in stimuli, to stimuli from a greater distance, and to new ranges of stimuli, e.g., a new sense. On the motor, or effector side there are the ability to live in a greater range of temperature or moisture, speed of movement, and the ability to make finer manipulatory adjustments to objects in the environment. In the interface between perception and response come the coordination of responses to stimuli such as the development of a central nervous system, of social cooperation and intelligence in general, and finally speech itself.

This gives us many facets of comparison and we cannot simply arrange all species on a linear scale of more advanced and less advanced. It is clear that time, indeed vast periods of time are required for the development of more advanced species in the sense just sketched. This is borne out in general by the paleontological record which shows that on the whole more advanced species appear later than less advanced although the less advanced persist as viable adaptions.

In the nineteenth century and the earlier part of the twentieth century the belief persisted that languages could in a similar way be arranged from least to more advanced. This was generally expressed by the notion of successive types. The most prominent and persistent of these schemes was the threefold division into isolating, agglutination, and inflective. The earliest and most rudimentary type was the isolating in which, ideally, each word was completely simple and could not be divided into parts as do many words in English, e.g., truth-fully. In the agglutinative stage formerly isolated meaningful units were merely glued together mechanically without any modification of their parts. In the final stage, inflection, there were modification and adaptations of the parts of a word so that the word was a complex organic structure.

Generally only Indo-European was considered to embody the highest stage. The ethnocentrism of this scale is obvious and there were such anomalies as the fact that the closest language to an ideal isolating one was Chinese with its ancient literature and civilization. Further, certain American Indian languages turned out to have a more complex word structure than Indo- European. Moreover in historic times Indo-European languages seemed to be losing their complex inflectional structure and to approach more and more an isolating type, a retrograde movement from the viewpoint of this theory. These considerations led ultimately to its abandonment.

As a further criticism it may be noted that only one very limited aspect of languages was being considered, namely how words were formed from smaller meaningful units, the aspect of language called morphology. In fact it is not clear in what ways an isolating structure is any way less adapted to the functions of language than an agglutinative or inflective. It can also be seen that in this now abandoned traditional treatment the subject of evolution is almost solely in the context of simplicity evolving into complexity and limited to the morphological structure of words. The significance of simplicity versus complexity has certainly been overrated. Irregular alternations, a supposedly glorious property of the inflectional type, have no evolutionary superiority. Irregular alternations are, by definition, functionless. The variation between ‘go’ and ‘wen-’ is useless since the difference in meaning between present and past is already adequately expressed by the ‘-t’ of the past in ‘wen-t.’ A past ‘go-ed’ would perform the same work and without the burden of learning this irregularity–a real, if hardly noticed, difficulty for the native speaker and a more conspicuous one for an individual who learns English as a second language. That this is a point of inefficiency is witnessed by the universal tendency towards analogic change, that is, the imposition of regularity. This is hindered by sheer frequency of use that tends to perpetuate irregularities in the most frequent words as in the inflection of ‘to be’ and the irregular plurals ‘feet,’ ‘teeth,’ etc.

While the analogic process mentioned above tends toward regularity, universal processes of linguistic change produce new irregularities. The irregular plurals ‘feet,’ ‘teeth,’ ‘mice,’ etc., came into existence from earlier regular forms. In Anglo-Saxon we had fot ‘foot’ and fot-i ‘feet.’ The first vowel of the plural was fronted by the influence of the plural ‘-i’ expressed by a front vowel (‘i’ as in ‘pit’) producing a vowel in the first syllable similar to ‘o’ of present day German, i.e., foti. This vowel was unusual in English and the rounding was redundant, as the plural was already expressed by the ‘-i’ since the singular was fot. Possibly in consequence of this the front rounded vowel was unrounded and the final vowel dropped. Thus we finally had singular fot, plural fet giving modern English ‘foot feet’ which generations of children venturing on an analogical plural ‘foots’ have been unable to dislodge.

Recapitulating in terms of the earlier consideration of evolutionary advance, it becomes clear that it is not complexity as such which is more advanced than simplicity but any change in efficiency relative to a function to be performed. The traditional criterion for simplicity in the way words are put together from smaller meaningful parts (morphology) is here of minor significance. Similarly in biology a hoof is more efficient than toes in relation to locomotion but a hoof is simpler in form than toes. In other instances we have growth of complexity as functionally relevant, e.g., in the differentiation of teeth in relation to grinding (molars), cutting (incisors), etc.

2. Language And Communication

The basic function of language is communication. This implies that language should be considered in the more inclusive framework of the evolution of communication. To discuss the evolution of language by considering language in isolation from communication in general is like discussing the evolution of the bow without regard to its relation to other weapons.

2.1 The Three Stages Of Language Evolution

The evolution of language from the viewpoint of communication can be divided into three stages: prelanguage, language proper, and post-language. Al- though this is the chronological order of their first appearance, each continues to exist after the initiation of the next stage.

2.2 The Age And Definition Of Language Proper

The most commonly held view is that true language first developed in our own species homo sapiens sapiens ca. 50,000 years BP. No doubt non-language communication existed previously as it does in many species both in the genus homo and outside of it. There is no satisfactory account, conjectural as it must be, of steps leading from pre-linguistic communication to language proper. For many the problem of the origin of language is the development of such an account.

We can however consider what distinguishes language proper from non-language, which we may call pre-language in this context. This sets up the requirements of what must come into existence before we can talk of language as distinct from pre-language. The two major requirements are duality of patterning and an infinity of possible sentences. The term duality, (first used by Hockett 1958), refers to the existence of two levels in language. The first is the level of sound units ( phonemes) which are relatively limited in number, roughly 10 to 70, and which are in themselves and in isolation meaningless. In combination they form meaningful units of various levels from the smallest, the morpheme e.g., ‘hand,’ ‘the,’ ‘streng-’ as in ‘strength’ through words, simple or complex morphemically ‘hand,’ ‘the,’ ‘streng-th’ and phrases, up to the sentence level. The sentence is a unit that can occur in isolation to express a coherent thought, e.g., you ‘forgot to put out the cat.’ This analyzability of complex sequences of sound to produce sentences as expressions of coherent thought can be called grammaticality, and the rules when codified form what is called grammar. As a second major property that distinguishes true language from pre-language there is the infinitude of grammatically well-formed sentences that can be formed in conformity to the rules of grammar. There is no finite length for a possible sentence.

Pre-language is then not true language because it lacks these properties of duality and infinity. Prelanguage continues to function in human societies as gesture and expressive cries although the latter are often conventionalized, e.g., ‘ouch!’ The advantage brought by grammatical rules which organize the finite set of distinctive sounds or phonemes is not only a vast increase in the number of lexical elements constituting the vocabulary but the possibility of combining in sentences categories not found together in reality, e.g., lies, hypotheses, and past or future states of affairs.

It seems unlikely that genuine language developed from gestural elements. In addition to the values inherent in a grammatical organization on the dual level of phonemes and morphemes, certain advantages of the sound medium will help explain why the first true language is spoken language. The use of vocal organs, an overlaid function, did not require the development of a new organ through the slow mechanism of genetic change. The voice is always available, involves little exertion, and does not interfere with other activities except, to a minor degree, eating. Above all, it allows the hand to be utilized. Moreover it can be used by day or night and is perceptible in all directions.

The development of brain lateralization and an increase in complexity and intelligence in the brain are also a major concomitant. Probably this should be viewed as reciprocal. The development of the brain made language possible but the development of the brain itself was to a great extent the result of the use of language.

2.3 Post-Language

Despite all of its advantages language in its physical aspect lacks permanence and range. The first advance in what we may call post-language is the invention of writing ca. 10,000 BP in the Middle East. It gives permanence to speech and overcomes distance by the sending of written missives. Relatively recent inventions such as telegraphy, radio, and the computer all give greater range and the possibility of channelized and hence more private communication. All that these developments have in common is that they are isomorphic with spoken language at the sentence level and often at lower levels such as the word or the morpheme. By this is meant that there are rules of one-to-one correspondence between entire sentences in spoken language and some sequence of written or other symbols without necessary one-to-one correspondence on the lowest level of basic phonologic elements ( phonemes). Because of the isomorphism on the sentence level of all these systems with spoken language, any inefficiencies that adhere to the semantic and grammatical systems of spoken language are unaffected.

In its semantic aspect certain disadvantages rise from its method of definition of semantic units. This is because the meaning is learned normally not by definition but in context and implicitly rather than explicitly. The two main properties of meaning in natural languages that arise are ambiguity and vagueness. By ambiguity is meant the existence of alternative and different meaning, i.e., homonymy. Vagueness is the lack of definite boundaries to the set of cases in which a term applies. Imagine that the speakers of English are confronted with a man without a single hair on his head. They will presumably agree that he is bald. Now take a man with a full head of hair and remove the hairs one by one. There will be lack of agreement as to the point at which the statement that he is bald is true and, no doubt, an interval within which some or all speakers will be uncertain. We might agree to define the man as bald if he has fewer than a certain number of active hair follicles. In everyday discourse many terms have an ambiguous set of meanings each of which is vague. Actually much ambiguity is harmless. For example the use of the term ‘case’ both in grammar and law will presumably mislead no one and such instances are even a conservation of vocabulary resources. Vagueness can in principle be eliminated by an agreement on boundaries. However the absence of boundaries corresponds to our own lack of precise knowledge. Do we wish to count active hair follicles every time that we are about to employ the word ‘bald’?

Far more insidious are the closely similar but distinct meanings of such words as ‘function’ in the social and biological sciences. The needs of philosophical and scientific discourse cannot always in the long run be satisfied by the traditional implicit definitions. The first step in departing from the traditional use of terms is the use of definitions by postulation but employing the semantic and grammatical structure of natural language. The physicist defines ‘force’ in the professional discourse of physicists. Sometimes, however, such half-measures prove inadequate and, as in the case of mathematics and formal logic, an entire system with its own syntactic rules and symbolization of terms is created by postulation.

The development in technologically advanced societies of such formalized systems that overcome in good part the ambiguity and vagueness of meaning and the morphological irregularities of natural language does not mean the supersession of language. It may rather be interpreted within the overall context of the evolution of communication, as part of the process by which each kind of communication becomes more efficiently served by an instrument that more adequately fulfills some specific function. The constant availability and flexibility of language in expanding to cover new needs suggests that it will not be replaced in person-to-person interaction in the foreseeable future, if ever.

2.4 Ordinary Language As The Ultimate Le El Of Explanation

Language plays a unique role among means of communication that aside from all other considerations assures its future. If we wish to explain a symbol we must do it in some sign system. If the term is still not understood it must be explained in some lower-level system, and so on. But at some point this process must reach an end. Such a system provides the level of ultimate explanation. Language serves this function, hence its generality as compared with the limited subject matter of other signs. For example one explains the symbolic use by the Navajo of ‘red’ as referring to ‘north’ by means of a word for ‘north’ in Navajo or some other language and it is then assumed to be understood.

Ontogenetically, too, such systems or post-language symbols (e.g., traffic lights) are learned after language and by the use of language, but never vice versa. We would not entrust a pre-language infant with crossing the street alone. Humankind is a symbolic animal who constantly devises new post-language signs. For example, without explicit argument or legal enactment there arose in the United States in the 1990s the convention of a black rim for glass pots containing ordinary coffee and an orange-tannish hue for decaffeinated coffee where publicly served.

2.5 The Evolution Of Societal Specialization In Communication

In general, the greater the economic productivity and density of population, the less likely that speech communities will differentiate into linguistically distinct local variants. Further, the felt needs of wider communication will result in the development of standard languages and lingua francas. Such developments may be accelerated by the concentration of political power that will expand the role of some particular form for convenience in administrative use and/or to enhance solidarity by the common use of some preferred speech form. Such developments generally lead to widespread bilingualism or multilingualism in which each language fulfills some specific function.

Greater societal differentiation is reflected in, and has as one of its important aspects, changes in the social aspects of communication. In folk societies the majority of individuals are roughly of equal status in regard to communication. In industrialized societies specialized senders such as journalists, broadcasters, and authors of books send to far more people than those from whom they receive communications. No doubt the Internet is a further stage in this process, increasing the density of communication and the proportion of persons who both send and receive multiple communications.

It can be seen then that it is not so much language that has evolved after its initial invention as communication in general. Within this process, ordinary spoken language has a central and unique position as the source of post-language developments and as the ultimate level of explanation. In this broad sense there is a correlation between the evolution of communication and the evolution of culture. Language, evolves by begetting that which is not language, but transcends it even while ultimately being dependent on it and having language as its source.


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