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The evolution of human language: A grammaticalization perspective Bernd Heine November 2011. Compared to the biologist, the linguist is in a deplorable situation:

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The evolution of human language: A grammaticalization perspective

Bernd Heine

November 2011


Compared to the biologist, the linguist is in a deplorable situation:

"In other words, the central aspects of language -- syntax and phonology -- have no evident homologs. In that sense, language is an emergent trait (or “key innovation”) and poses, along with all such traits, particularly difficult problems for evolutionary biology. Likewise, there are no archaeological digs tuning up specimens of the language of 100,000 years ago. While the fossil record has given us a reasonably clear picture of the evolution of the vocal tract, grammatical structure, needless to say, is not preserved in geological strata." (Newmeyer 2003: 61)


Open questions situation:

a Why did human language evolve, and what purpose did it serve?

b When and where did it evolve?

c Who were the creators of early language?

d Was its origin mono-genetic or poly-genetic, that is, do the modern languages derive from one ancestral language or from more than one?

e Were the forms and structures characterizing early language motivated or arbitrary?

f Did language originate as a vocal or a gestural system?

g Can language genesis be related to behavior of non-human animals?

h Was language evolution abrupt or gradual?

i Which is older -- the lexicon or grammar?

j What was the structure of language like when it first evolved?

k How did language change from its genesis to now?

l How long did it take to develop a structure that corresponds to what we find in modern languages?

m How did phonology evolve?

n How did the properties believed to be restricted to modern human languages arise, in particular syntax and the recursive use of language structures?


Observations and assumptions situation:

a Language evolution is the result of language change. Accordingly, in order to reconstruct this evolution we need to know what a possible linguistic change is and what is not.

b An important driving force of grammatical change is creativity.

c Linguistic forms and structures have not necessarily been designed for the functions they presently serve.

d Context is an important factor determining grammatical change.

e Grammatical change is directional.

Heine, Bernd & Tania Kuteva 2007. The genesis of grammar: a reconstruction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Two types of languages to be distinguished here: situation:

Modern languages

a They consist of the languages spoken today.

b They are immediately accessible to reconstruction by means of established methods of historical linguistics.

c They relate to linguistic developments of roughly the last eight millennia.


Early language situation:

a It is not available today.

b It is not accessible via orthodox historical methodology.

c It is clearly older than 8000 years and covers the timespan from the genesis of human language to the beginning of modern languages.

d Consequently, all we know about it remains of necessity hypothetical.

Note: Early language must not be confused with "protolanguage" (Bickerton 1990), a term that will not be used in this work except when referring to works where it appears.


Two kinds of approaches to reconstruct early language: situation:

a Disciplinary approaches: Exploit the techniques of one particular scientific discipline to get access to at least part of language evolution.

b Integrating approaches: Combine findings from all scientific disciplines within one general analytic framework.


Paradigm examples of integrated approaches are situation:Bickerton (1990), Jackendoff (1999; 2002: 237), Comrie (2000), Calvin and Bickerton (2000), Givón (2002a; 2002b; 2005), and Li and Hombert (2002).

Bickerton, Derek 1990. Language and species. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jackendoff, Ray 2002. Foundations of language: brain, meaning, grammar, evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Givón, Talmy2002a. Bio-linguistics: the Santa Barbara lectures. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

----- 2005. Context as other minds. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins.


Position adopted here: situation:

- First (a) (disciplinary approaches) then (b) (integrating approaches).

- (a) has not yet been exploited sufficiently , hence opting for (b) at the present stage would be premature.

- Accordingly, we will be restricted to (a), that is, a disciplinary approach.


The approach to early language adopted here: situation:

Grammaticalization theory


English A He situation:kept the money. Verb

B He kept complaining. Durative

A He used all the money. Verb

B He used to come. Habitual

A He’s going to town. Verb

B He’s going to come. Future

At some earlier stage in the history of English there was A but not B.


Generalizations situation:

a There are two homophonous items A and B in language L, where A serves as a lexical verb and B as an auxiliary marking grammatical functions such as tense, aspect, or modality.

b While A has a noun as the nucleus of its complement, B has a non-finite verb instead.

c While A is typically (though not necessarily) an action verb, B is an auxiliary expressing concepts of tense, aspect, or modality.

d B is historically derived from A.

e The process from A to B is unidirectional; that is, it is unlikely that there is a language where A is derived from B.

f In accordance with (d) and (e), there was an earlier situation in language L where there was A but not B.


Principle of reconstruction situation:

Past situation: A

Present situation: A B

From modern languages to early language


2 situation:Grammaticalization theory


Grammaticalization situation: theory

A definition

Grammaticalization is defined as the development from lexical to grammatical forms, and from grammatical to even more grammatical forms. Since the development of grammatical forms is not independent of the constructions to which they belong, the study of grammaticalization is in the same way concerned with constructions, and with even larger discourse segments.

The beginning of modern studies:

Givón, Talmy 1971. Historical syntax and synchronic morphology: an archaeologist's field trip. Chicago Linguistic Society 7: 394-415.


Grammaticalization theory: some references situation:

Heine, Bernd, Ulrike Claudi & Friederike Hünnemeyer 1991. Grammaticalization: a conceptual framework. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Traugott, Elizabeth C. & Bernd Heine (eds.) 1991. Approaches to grammaticalization. 2 volumes. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Bybee, Joan L., Revere D. Perkins & William Pagliuca. 1994. The evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Heine, Bernd & Tania Kuteva 2002. World lexicon of grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hopper, Paul J. & Elizabeth C. Traugott 2003. Grammaticalization. Second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Narrog, Heiko and Bernd Heine (eds.) 2011. The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Application situation:

Grammaticalization theory relies

  • on regularities in the change of linguistic forms and constructions, especially

  • on the unidirectionality principle and

  • on the implications this principle has for the reconstruction of earlier language states.


Parameters of grammaticalization situation:

Extension (or context generalization): use in new contexts suggests new grammatical meanings.

Desemanticization (or “semantic bleaching”), i.e. loss in meaning content.

Decategorialization, i.e. loss in morphosyntactic properties characteristic of lexical or other less grammaticalized forms.

Erosion (“phonetic reduction”), i.e. loss in phonetic substance.


Principle of reconstruction situation:

Past situation: Dem.

Present situation: Dem. Def.

From demonstrative to definite article


I situation:

NOUN

II

VERB

III

ADJECTIVE

ADVERB

NEG

IV

DEM

ADP

ASP

V

PRN

DEF

REL

CPL

CAS

TNS

VI

AGR

PAS

SBR

Layers of grammatical development.


Non human animals chimpanzees bonobos gorillas orang utans ravens perrots dolphins sea lions
Non-human animals situation: ChimpanzeesBonobos GorillasOrangUtans RavensPerrots Dolphins Sea lions ...


Non-human animal communication: imperatives situation:

Vervet monkeys have four distinct calls:

a) Wrr – when a neighbouring group has been spotted

b) Snake call – alarm call for snakes

c) Leopard call - alarm call for leopards

d) Eagle call – alarm call for eagles

 All four are phonologically distinct and

arbitrary; they stand for objects even when

this object isn’t to be seen and evoke

reactions


Possible language-like abilities in Grey African Parrots situation:

a to understand salient characteristics of concepts;

b to distinguish form-meaning pairings ("words");

c to acquire form-meaning pairings of more than one hundred items, including items denoting objects, actions, and some numbers;

d to handle functional items for negation and interrogation;

e to have an elementary understanding of the notion of deixis;

f to use an elementary argument structure;

g to acquire some understanding of linear arrangement of form-meaning pairings;

h to conjoin propositions and/or form-meaning pairings;

i to acquire some basics of taxonomic hierarchy as it manifests itself in inclusion and part-whole relations.


Potential abilities in non-human animals to form situation:communication systemsa There is a well-marked ability to create a limited stock of form- meaning units ("lexical items").b The units are, at least to some extent, arbitrary form-meaning pairings.c The units include items for objects ("nouns") and actions ("verbs"), but also some more abstract items, such as items for colors and numbers.d The units can be arranged into propositional structures ("predicate frames"), even if this ability appears to be fairly elementary.e There are linguistic means to express questions and negation.


Potential abilities in non-human animals to form situation:communication systems 2f There are no clear indications of grammaticalization. g There is essentially no form of clause subordination.h There are no phrase structures that are clearly suggestive of recursion.i The system is not normally transmitted from one group of speakers to another (or from one generation to the next).


Linguistic abilities of non-human animals situation:

I

NOUN

II

VERB

III

ADJECTIVE

ADVERB

NEG

IV

DEM

ADP

ASP

V

PRN

DEF

REL

CPL

CAS

TNS

VI

AGR

PAS

SBR


Potential abilities in non-human animals to form situation:communication systemsa There is a well-marked ability to create a limited stock of form- meaning units ("lexical items").b The units are, at least to some extent, arbitrary form-meaning pairings.c The units include items for objects ("nouns") and actions ("verbs"), but also some more abstract items, such as items for colors and numbers.d The units can be arranged into propositional structures ("predicate frames"), even if this ability appears to be fairly elementary.e There are linguistic means to express questions and negation.f There is essentially no form of clause subordination.g There are no phrase structures that are clearly suggestive of recursion.


Restricted linguistic systems situation: Nicaraguan Sign Language Isolated childrenHomesigns Twins’ languages Pidgins


Isolated children
Isolated children situation:

Kaspar Hauser

Kaspar Hauser was kept in total isolation in a small room from the age of three or four until about 15 or 16 of age, being released and discovered in Nuremberg in 1828, but he was assassinated in 1833 at age 21. Within this short period of five years he learned to read and write, and he mastered semantic aspects of the German language.


Isolated children 2 situation:

Genie was isolated from age 1;8 to 13;7 -- that is, for a period of twelve year she was imprisoned by her father in a small bedroom in the back of the family home in California. She had little linguistic input; her brother and father were her primary caretakers but did not speak to her. Her blind mother managed to escape with her from the home when Genie was 13, and when Genie was discovered in 1970 she could barely walk, chew or bite, and she did not understand nor speak language.


Genie began to produce words within a few months, and three to four months later she had acquired an expressive vocabulary of 100 to 200 words, including words for colors, numbers, and lexical taxonomic hierarchy (superordinate, basic, subordinate), and she could combine two words. She produced increasingly longer strings of words, but her utterances remained what Curtiss (1994: 228) describes as "agrammatic and hierarchically flat."


Pidgins to four months later she had acquired an expressive vocabulary of 100 to 200 words, including words for colors, numbers, and lexical taxonomic hierarchy (superordinate, basic, subordinate), and she could combine two words. She produced increasingly longer strings of words, but her utterances remained what Curtiss (1994: 228) describes as "agrammatic and hierarchically flat."

Pidgins

- Spoken only as second languagess

- Drastically simplified languages

no grammatical forms,

only 300 - 600 words

Pace Bickerton and Givón, pidgins are not restricted

systems, they have features of full systems, even if

they are strongly reduced


An elementary linguistic system to four months later she had acquired an expressive vocabulary of 100 to 200 words, including words for colors, numbers, and lexical taxonomic hierarchy (superordinate, basic, subordinate), and she could combine two words. She produced increasingly longer strings of words, but her utterances remained what Curtiss (1994: 228) describes as "agrammatic and hierarchically flat." characterizing isolated children, homesigns, twins’ languagesa There is a well-marked ability to create a limited stock of form- meaning units ("lexical items").b These units can be combined to produce new meanings. c The units include items for objects ("nouns") and actions ("verbs"), but also some more abstract items, such as items for colors and numbers.d The units can be arranged into propositional structures ("predicate frames"), even if this ability appears to be fairly elementary.e There are linguistic means to express questions and negation.


Links to acquaintances of the Leakey Foundation to four months later she had acquired an expressive vocabulary of 100 to 200 words, including words for colors, numbers, and lexical taxonomic hierarchy (superordinate, basic, subordinate), and she could combine two words. She produced increasingly longer strings of words, but her utterances remained what Curtiss (1994: 228) describes as "agrammatic and hierarchically flat."

External

Environment

Organism Internal

Faculty of language in

the broad sense (= FLB)

Faculty of language

In the narrow sense

(= FLN)

Ecological

Physical

Cultural

Social

Conceptual-

intentional

system

Sensory-motor

system

Recursion

Other possible

systems

Organism-external and -internal factors related to the faculty of language

(according to Hauser, Chomsky and Fitch 2002: 1570).


Hauser, Marc D., Noam Chomsky & W. Tecumseh Fitch 2002. The faculty of language: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science 298: 1569-79.

Jackendoff, Ray & Steven Pinker 2005. The nature of the language faculty and its implications for the evolution of language (reply to Fitch, Hauser, & Chomsky). Cognition 2005: 1-36.


Recursion: The act of defining an object in terms of that object itself

(Or: A definition that uses itself as part of itself).

a AA X (where "X" can be any category)

b AA [B]

c house  [big] house Noun [Adjective]

d house  house [which Peter bought] Noun [Relative clause]


I object itself

NOUN

II

VERB

III

Phrasal recursion

ADJECTIVE

ADVERB

NEG

IV

DEM

ADP

ASP

Clausal recursion

V

PRN

DEF

REL

CPL

CAS

TNS

VI

AGR

PAS

SBR

Layers of grammatical evolution: The rise of recursion


Layers of grammatical evolution: object itself

Som hypothesized structural innovations

I nouns [ one-word utterances]

II verbs [ mono-clausal propositions]

III adjectives, adverbs [ head-dependent structure]

IV demonstratives, adpositions, aspect markers, negation

[ elaboration of phrase structure]

V pronouns, definite (and indefinite) markers, relative clause markers,

complementizers, case markers, tense markers

[ clause subordination, temporal and spatial displacement]

VI agreement markers, passive markers, adverbial clause subordinators

[ obligatory expressions]


Open object itself questions

a Why did human language evolve, and what purpose did it serve?

b When and where did it evolve?

c Who were the creators of early language?

d Was its origin mono-genetic or poly-genetic, that is, do the modern languages derive from one ancestral language or from more than one?

e Were the forms and structures characterizing early language motivated or arbitrary?

f Did language originate as a vocal or a gestural system?

g Can language genesis be related to behavior of non-human animals?

h Was language evolution abrupt or gradual?

i Which is older -- the lexicon or grammar?

j What was the structure of language like when it first evolved?

k How did language change from its genesis to now?

l How long did it take to develop a structure that corresponds to what we find in modern languages?

m How did phonology evolve?

n How did the properties believed to be restricted to modern human languages arise, in particular syntax and the recursive use of language structures?


Any questions? object itself


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