Knowledge and Language

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To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark. ― Victor Hugo

Language and knowledge are intimately linked. While knowledge can exist in the absence of language and can even be transmitted humanity's evolution of language enabled it to step away from the animal nature of knowledge into an ongoing progression of knowing and learning building across the generations for many thousands of years.

If we assume a single point of origin for humanity (and we probably shouldn't) can we trace the origins of the majority of human languages back to a common root?

Linguists lose the trail 6000 to 7000 years back. Murray Gell-Mann from the Santa Fe Institute where he heads an Evolution of Human Languages (EHL) Programme has stated " there is tentative evidence for a situation in which a huge fraction of all human languages are descended from one spoken around 20,000 years ago, towards the end of the last ice age" (p 29 New Scientist 24 July 2010).


Evolutionary Influences on Language

All primates except humans appear to have an air sac attached to the skeletal feature called the hyoid bulla. In humans it has shrunk to that of a vestigial organ. Palaeontologists have dated when our ancestors lost the organ. Bart de Boer of the University of Amsterdam has written that "Lucy's baby" an Australopithecus afarensis girl who lived 3.3 million years ago had a hyoid bulla; but by the time Homo heidelbergensis arrived on the scene 600,000 years ago, air sacs were a thing of the past. - (p 10 New Scientist 26 Nov 2011). "Lucy's baby" would have had a greatly reduced vocabulary. There are suggestions that in World War 1 that one impact of poison gas was to enlarge these vestigial air sacs and this in turn created speech problems and impaired listeners ability to comprehend. The air sacs interfered with the workings of the vocal cords. It could be implied that the loss of the air sac assisted in improved speech and language along with its comprehension.


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