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Re: <nettime> Disordered thinking through the origin of language (I'm in
Alan Sondheim on Thu, 7 Sep 2006 13:04:25 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Disordered thinking through the origin of language (I'm in quotation)

Again, this begs the question. It doesn't matter to whether songs or 
speech or for that matter hand-clapping; what seems important is where 
does the symbolic register originate? What constitutes symbolization.

How songs lead to 'verbs' is just beyond me, and why songs instead of, 
say, foot-stamping or any other activity. And I'm thinking way before 
things like chipping or other communal cultural activities. It seems clear 
(again perhaps only to me) that primates tend towards culture, that there 
is a decisive break between human primates and other species. That this 
break isn't just centered on the relative plasticity of human vocal cords, 
but something that led to their development.

I don't think there's any difficulty, once events and things are granted 
symbolic status, 'understood' by the group to _refer_ and operating among 
abstraction, memory, repetition, etc., to take the next step - which would 
be that of sounds associated with such symbolic status. Animals can learn 
different cries in relation to different degrees, say, of danger - I think 
it's chickadees that have (most likely instinctual) a variety of calls 
indicating the relative proximity of an enemy. These sorts of vocaliza- 
tions are already there; I think I also mentioned the mother-infant 
relationship and associated nurturing sounds. A mark of a bee sting on the 
face is abstracted - someone understands this has happened to an other, 
that there is danger - by repetition and memory, bee sting becomes 
associated with extra-symbolic units, a movement from the ikonic through 
the indexical, to the symbolic. I think this happens simply, and I think 
it happened all the time several million years ago, and eventually such 
signs as did develop, in terms of vocalizations or deliberate body 
markings or even the symbols on (much later) those pebbles - would be 
shared and remembered themselves, and it's the sharing that constitutes 
the origin of language. Language always already _is_ community (whether 
singing, which I doubt, or proto-syntax, which seems more likely and in 
fact is found in infant speech) what one is born-into; it's a register.
I think that language also does develop innately (although I may be way 
out of date in this) among humans; obviously early humans that could 
organize and reproduce signs, that could memorize them, recombine them, 
would have a higher likelihood of survival. (Ah well, while I'm at it, 
perhaps neanderthals had body hair, and early homo sapiens (ha!) didn't - 
that would make all the difference in the world, and worlding.)

So what I'm claiming might be the following - that the _human_ body is 
always already cultural or potentially cultural; that writing predates 
speaking (there's a parallel btw with video history predating film 
history); that spoken language grew out of a long series of associa- 
tions, gestures (only useful when two hominids can see each other); that 
language is obviously communal, communality; and that the simplest story 
of origins stems from (relative) hairlessness - that as hairlessness 
developed (for whatever reason, perhaps nothing more than a catastrophe in 
Thom's sense, in terms of mutation), so did the ability to read - and this 
ability and hairlessness were mutually reinforcing.

I don't know re: below, again, enough about the physiology of singing, 
except that it stems from different mechanisms than spoken language. I 
don't know how it's organized in the brain, etc. etc.

- Alan

On Tue, 5 Sep 2006, Michael H Goldhaber wrote:

> Alan's account seems plausible, but still leaves question of where


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