vendredi 22 février 2013

Pidgins are no more Primitive Languages than Robinson Crusoe had a Primitive Culture

Primitive properly speaking means primal. And Adam was the primal man, he was given a fullfledged grammar, lacking only lexemes for animals, a lacuna he was given opportunity to fill in.

There is no continuity there between Human and Subhuman (supposedly prehuman, ok, actually prehuman by a few hours or minutes on day six), no inbetween reminiscent of the language Tarzan learned or the language which one modern theory attributes to Homo Erectus (10 or 20 syllabic "phonemes" also serving as very general morphemes or lexemes). Nor of a primitive language without such "advanced" features as personal pronouns (confer the sentences in Rahan, where he fairly consistently uses Rahan, his name, or Son of Crao, his Patronym, instead of "I" and then also uses personal names of the people he adresses instead of in each case "thou").

I was just correcting a text* on wiki into:

'Continuity theories' are based on the idea that language is so complex that one cannot imagine it simply appearing from nothing in its final form: it must have evolved from earlier pre-linguistic systems among our primate ancestors. 'Discontinuity theories' are based on the opposite idea — that language is a unique trait so it cannot be compared to anything found among non-humans and must therefore have appeared fairly suddenly during the course of human evolution or otherwise it is also used by Creationists. Another contrast is between theories that see language mostly as an innate faculty that is largely genetically encoded, and those that see it as a system that is mainly cultural — that is, learned through social interaction.

What I added was: "or otherwise it is also used by Creationists." The rest was already there, added by other users.

Pidgins are indeed of limited expressive power. But they are makeshifts, not typical for language, just as trying to make a bakery with the things Robinson Crusoe had at hand are not typical for origins of baking, which Adam already must have known with some basic perfection. If Christianity is true that is, which is the case. Even apart from that, the culture Robinson Crusoe had did not exhaust his cultural knowledge, and similarily, whoever talks a pidgin is not therein exhausting his or her linguistic competence.

Cicero was an early proponent of "culture" depending on an advancement from the state of troglodytes clad very ill in skins very ill prepared. St Thomas Aquinas, who knew his texts, said: no, that may be the case for certain peoples, but not for mankind as such. Mankind received culture and language as gifts to go along with rationality.

Just as if you were to give away a computer to someone who had never used it - otherwise I do not at all recommend comparing computers to mind - you would probably give away one possible to use programme, whether it be word or excel, whether it be Microsoft, Apple or Linux, and so on.

I was very interested in evolutionist approaches to language origin when I was small. The first word is supposed to have been - on one theory I read in German - identic to the first phoneme, miming the noice you make when you blow on glowing charcoals to start a fire. That noice would have been the first word for fire and for life and for a lot of other things. My problem with this theory is that it would have been a word for so many different things, that it would not have been a word at all.

This fact that empirical evidence is limited has led many scholars to regard the entire topic as unsuitable for serious study. In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris went so far as to ban debates on the subject, a prohibition which remained influential across much of the western world until late in the twentieth century.

All of it already there, added by other users, btw. Same article.* Empirical evidence about discontinuity is not limited but very abundant. It is empirical evidence for continuity which is totally lacking. And Pidgins do not provide it.

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Bibliothèque Audoux
in Paris
St Isabel of France


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