Learning And Memory Essay, Research Paper
The Gestural Origins of Language
In this article, author Michael Corballis, discusses the evolution of the human language and it’s connection to manual gestures. Throughout the article he cites many individuals that support and refute his belief of this evolution. In an attempt to create a understanding of the findings that lead to the procedural development of language. He references Alfred North Whitehead in describing the distinguishing qualities of human communication as being its generativity’. In other words the limitlessness of the ideas which we can convey through sentences. He goes on to discuss the flexibility we achieve through the use of grammar and how linguist Noam Chomsky attributes this to the universal grammar’ that encompass all human languages. Chomsky proposes that children are born with these innate language universals,’ implying that they are born knowing the difference between nouns and verbs (Anderson, 2000) Chomsky and others have also argued that “innate linguistic abilities are special and specific to the human species: No other organism has innate knowledge about natural languages, and therefore no other organism can learn the kinds of languages that humans can learn” (Anderson, 2000). This linguistic ability more that anything else distinguishes humans intellectually as a species.
Corballis traces the instinct of language to other animals such as dolphins and apes. Yet he clarifies that despite their acquisition for real world concepts they lack certain ingredients of true language. The article goes on to outline the emergence of language through the evolution of our species. Linguist Derek Bickerton and others, believed that it was not possible for grammar to develop incrementally, but more along the lines of a single catastrophic event late in the hominid evolution. Whereas, Steve Pinker and his colleague Paul Bloom argue that it must have evolved gradually, shaped by natural selection. To reconcile these alternative perspectives Corballis states that a partial answer lies in the emergence of language from manual gestures rather than from vocalization. Only switching to vocalization late in the hominid evolution. Nonhuman primates have a restricted us of their hands for communication, since they are critically involved in postural support and locomotion. However, bipedalism a primary characteristic of the hominid line left hands free for carrying things and tool use. The split of the hominids and the great apes according to Corballis, may have been forged by the formation of the Great Rift Valley in Africa that for the most part confined the apes that were to become hominids to the east of this valley. Here the forests gave way to open savanna, calling for enhanced social cooperation and cohesiveness, in which efficient communication would have been especially important. Gestures would allow for stealth and better spacial communication. Corballis felt this early communication was a precursors to language. Whereas others thought it was distinct from language. Gestures are very universal they supply a visual iconic component that can provide extra information or bypass prolonged explanations. Over time they may have developed more abstract properties and incorporated sound.
Gestures are intricately used by Aboriginal Australians and by Plains Indians. Manual gestures are also still currently used by individuals on a daily basis to describe the location of objects in space, to create emphasis, and to describe size. However, it is used most extensively as a complete language for the hearing impaired. Studies show that children exposed from an early age only to sign language go through the same basic stages of acquisition as children learning to speak. They also appear to have the same difficulties in the mastery of sign language as that of hearing children learning a language after the age of 12 (Anderson, 2000). These individuals go through the same stages of acquisition as anyone else. The first is the cognitive stage where they are instructed on how the task is to be performed. The second is the associative stage of transition from a slow and deliberate use to a more direct representation of their knowledge. The third is the autonomous stage where the skill becomes more automated and rapid until it is more a matter of implicit memory (Anderson, 2000).
Like spoken language, sign language appears to be dependent on the left side of the brain. Damage to this cortical region will induce deficits in signing that parallel that of spoken language. From the sensorimotor point of view of Elizabeth Bates “language is viewed as a parasitic system overlaid on areas of the brain that originally evolved to do more basic work.” This expresses that language and gesture are planed and executed together all the time because they are running off the same neural systems, and the planing of language inevitably “leaks” over into gesture, which is a byproduct.” A concept that Corballis argues because he feels “the richness of human sign languages and hand gestures belies such a superfluous evolutionary origin for these phenomena.”
The transition from manual gestures to a spoken language despite the better hominid preadaptation for manual communication. May have been due to factors such as speaking in the dark, or correspondence when individuals could not view one another, or communication over distances. Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues convey that “it is more efficient for syntax to carry the grammatical component, leaving ionic components to the hands.” It is clear that technology appears to be held back for a period of two million years possibly due to the use of hands gestures in communication. This would lead one to believe according to Corballis, that the H.sapiens prevailed over the Neanderthals and the homo erectus as a result of the switch from manual to vocal language that allowed them to use their hands for the manufacture of tools and weapons and their voices for instruction.