current issues

current issues - What have theories of the origin of...

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What have theories of the origin of language told us about anthropology and linguistics? This essay will primarily be concerned with the differing theories of the origins of language. As these theories are analysed, one shall also consider the aspects of anthropology and linguistics en general. What areas of anthropology and linguistics are intrinsic to the theories of the origins of language, and what can these relationships tell us? Firstly it must be established what is meant by ‘language’. A distinction is apparent between basic communications of animals, gesture calls provoked by emotion for example, and the complexities of human speech. In the latter, rules of grammar, syntax, phonology, and semantics are conformed to. The language that shall be considered, may be viewed as a uniquely human trait, as Chomsky (1986: 5) said, “man has a species specific capacity”. One must acknowledge that some animal’s possess the ability of speech, with the physical and biological requirements being present, the parrot for example, but it is important to note that these animals are still void of a language of their own (Müller, 1996). Human language is mimicked, absent from the meanings and sentiments attached to the utterances. Mankind remains unique in it’s command and understanding of language. Language is of intrinsic importance to mankind, Descartes reiterated its uniqueness, going as far as saying that was what made mankind human (Lieberman, 1975). The theories of the origins of language are debating the method in which it evolved; from where, and in what method, it arrived to its present day form. In the same way theories on the origins of modern Homo sapiens sapiens are key issues underpinning the subject of anthropology, so too, be the theories of the origins of language. As mentioned, in the thoughts of many, our use of language makes us as human as bipedal walking, or any other unique morphological trait (Noble & Davidson, 1991). The controversy surrounding these theories does tell one something about the subject of anthropology; answers are not always apparent, and the debates over theories are key to the progression of the subject. The importance of both the morphological and linguistic, not to mention social and cultural, 1
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origins of mankind to anthropology highlights the subject’s holistic nature, reminding one that it is the study of mankind as whole and not isolated topics and issues. The origin of language is a hotly debated topic, mired in ill repute. The evolution of mans morphology is documented, with supporting evidence from archaeology and comparative study, including that of our closest relative, the greater apes. When one begins to consider the evolution of the human language, problems become apparent. The first spoken words are not preserved in fossil records, grammar structure and syntax cannot be insinuated from geological strata, participant observation is marred by the lack of suitable subjects, and comparative study is flawed with no homologues
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This note was uploaded on 02/25/2012 for the course ANTH 3303 taught by Professor Hadder during the Spring '11 term at Texas State.

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current issues - What have theories of the origin of...

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