LINGUIST List 3.280

Mon 23 Mar 1992

Disc: Disambiguation, Language & Evolution

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  1. Chris Culy, Case for disambiguation (Summary)
  2. , RE: 3.267 Queries: Heine, Prehistory, Gender
  3. Laurie Bauer, When language developed

Message 1: Case for disambiguation (Summary)

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 1992 11:55:10 Case for disambiguation (Summary)
From: Chris Culy <>
Subject: Case for disambiguation (Summary)

Hi all,

A while back I asked about examples of case being used for disambiguation.
Several people replied, and the results are below. Thanks again to everyone.

Language (family) Reference Source

Spanish	 Spanish Academy (Esbozo de una
 nueva gramatica, 1973, p.374)

Coast Salish	 Hess, "Agent in a Coast Salish Deryle Lonsdale
 Language", IJAL vol. XXXIX

Hanis Coos	 p.c.	 Matthew Dryer

Sino-Tibetan	 LaPolla, R. (to appear) in Randy LaPolla
 Linguistics of the Tibeto-Burman
 Area 14.2

Various Dixon, R.M.W. 1979. Ergativity. Rosemary Plapp
 in Language 55:1.
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Message 2: RE: 3.267 Queries: Heine, Prehistory, Gender

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 1992 12:27:01 RE: 3.267 Queries: Heine, Prehistory, Gender
Subject: RE: 3.267 Queries: Heine, Prehistory, Gender

Ruth Berman asks about prehistory language sources. Here's a handful from my
reference files of varying relevance. My own impression is that there is
surprising covergence among Swadesh's crude regression estimates, recent DNA
speculation using a similar regression technique but on totally different data,
and some fossil evidence (e.g. Arensburg et al, 1989). This is that "human
language" started about 100,000, maybe 200,000 years ago. It is difficult to
believe this is sheer numerological coincidence when considered against the
great variation in estimates over the past hundred years of such "macro-events"
as primate divergence and even the age of the earth itself! Of course what
counts as the beginning of "human language"--even if we had the historical
facts-- would probably occasion a debate on the order of the ape-language
stuff (LImber,1977). However if I were right that hominid brains essentially
 adapted to existing culture (Limber,1982, 1990)
--perhaps repeatedly and successively biologically internalizing those aspects
 of language that could be systematized --
then there is the possibility that in some sense "language" predates Homo
sapiens and recent claims based on DNA would be reflecting a kind of
 neurological retrofitting (like putting a new chip in my Macintosh)
 of existing hominids (cf. Wolpoff).
 John Limber
 Psychology, University of New Hampshire
 Durham NH, 03824

Arensburg, B., Tillier, A. M., Vandermeersch, B., Duday, H., Schepartz, L. A.,
& Rak, Y. (1989). A Middle Palaeothic human hyoid bone. Nature, 338, 758-760.

Duchin, L. E. (1990). The evolution of articulate speech: comparative anatomy
of the oral cavity in Pan and Homo. Journal of Human Evolution, 19, 678-697.

Krantz, G. S. (1988). Laryngeal descent in 40,000 year old fossils. In M. E.
Landsberg (Ed.), The Genesis of Language (pp. 173-180). Berlin: Mouton de

Limber, J. (1977). Language in child and chimp? American Psychologist, 32,
280-295 (Reprinted in Sebeok, T. & Sebeok, J. (Eds.) (1980). Speaking of Apes
(pp.197-218). New York: Plenum Press.).

Limber, J. (1982). What can chimps tell us about the origins of language. In S.
Kuczaj (Ed.), Language Development: Volume 2 (pp. 429-446). Hillsdale, NJ: L.
E. Erlbaum.

Limber, J. (1990). Language Evolved--So What's New? Behavioral and Brain
Sciences, 13, 742-743.

Marshall, J. C. (1989). Cognitive anatomy: The descent of the larynx? Nature,
338, 702-703.

Pinker,S. & Bloom, P. (1990) Natural language and natural selection. Behavioral
and Brain Sciences, 13,707-784.

Rightmire, G. P. (1989). Middle Stone Age Humans from Eastern and Southern
Africa. In P. Mellars, & C. Stringer (Ed.), The Human Revolution Princeton:
Princeton University Press.

Lindblom, B. (1990). On the notion of "possible speech sound". Journal of
Phonetics, 18, 135-152.

Swadesh, M. (1971). The Origin and Diversification of Language . Chicago:
Aldine-Atherton, Inc.

Shevoroshkin, V., & Markey, T. (1986). Typology, Relationship, and Time. Ann
Arbor: Karoma Publishers,

Vigilant, L., Stoneking, M., Harpending, H., Hawkes, K., & Wilson, A. C.
(1991). African Populations and the Evolution of Human Mitochondrial DNA.
Science, 253, 1503-1507.

Wolpoff, M. (1989). Multiregional Evolution: The Fossil Alternative to Eden. In
P. Mellars, & C. Stringer (Ed.), The Human Revolution (pp. 62-108). Princeton:
Princeton University Press.
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Message 3: When language developed

Date: Fri, 20 Mar 1992 10:21:52 When language developed
From: Laurie Bauer <>
Subject: When language developed

Prof Michael Corballis, Psychology, University of Auckland, New Zealand has
written a paper called 'When did Language Evolve?', which he has presented to a
number of audiences recently. I do not know whether it has yet been accepted
for publication anywhere. In it he surveys various kinds of evidence for the
date of the evolution of language, and tries to synthesise it in a way which
makes sense. Clearly, any conclusions are controversial, especially since the
'evidence' is not always reliable!
Laurie Bauer
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