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4 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Conspiracy of Silence, 30 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: The Study of Language (Paperback)
This book has gained five star ratings from all the other reviewers and it is easy to why. Ostensibly, their rave reviews are fully justified. So why only one star from this reviewer? My concern here is with the opening chapter on the origins of language. Disarmingly, Professor Yule says that nobody knows how human language originated. However, he lists a number of possible sources. These are: the Divine Source; the Natural Sound Source; the Social Interaction Source; the Physical Adaptation Source; the Tool Making Source; and the Genetic Source. This a very comprehensive and balanced list, but it ignores the unique characteristics of the human specie - some of which may have led to the development of speech and language.

Professor Yule is not alone in this. A comparative study of his contempories, namely: Professor R.L. Trask Language: The Basics, Professor Jean Aitchison The Seeds of Speech: Language Origin and Evolution (Canto), and Professor Peter MacNeilage The Origin of Speech (Studies in the Evolution of Language) show a similar apparent ignorance of these unique human characteristics. Given their experience and academic qualifications, is it likely that they have all overlooked the obvious? Or is this some sort of "Conspiracy of Silence".

Scientists are not natural conspirators. Quite the opposite in fact. But distinguished Professors have been known to hold up progress when fundamental issues are involved. For example: Tectonic Plate theory which was ignored for over fifty years; or Quantum Theory which was ignored for forty years.

If we can accept that the physiological adaptations required for human speech and language were caused by the general process of biological evolution, then we must see this in the context of genetic variation and natural selection. In this regard, we should note that all the physical changes in terms of lips, tongue, teeth, voice box, larynx and brain were due to genetic variations. We should also note that these genetic variations would occur from time to time in other specie of mammals; but they were only selected for in the human specie or their hominid ancestors.

So we must turn our attention to the Natural Selection aspect of evolution. What is missing from the accounts of the distinguished Professors listed above?

1. Multi-aged Broods. There are only two specie of mammals which have multi-age broods of young, namely: the human specie and the Indian Tree Shrew. However, in the case of the latter, the characteristic only lasts a couple of days as the elder brood kills the younger brood! Only humans rear multi-aged broods to maturity.

2. Response Seeker Characteristic. All mammals are Response Seekers. This is because all mammal young are dependent upon adults for their survival. At the very least they must be fed on their mothers milk. When they are born they instinctively seek a response. Young mice squeak, kittens mew and babies cry. There are two kinds of Response Seekers, namely : Individual Response Seekers and Public Response Seekers. The latter are only found in the human specie.

3. Sexual Triangles and Cold Adaptations. These are not specific to humans, but played a role in the change of skull shape which allowed the human specie to pronounce "Stop Consonants".

Why are all these things ignored? Why was Tectonic Plate Theory ignored? Why was Quantum Theory ignored?

I rest my case.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 May 2013 10:40:28 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 May 2013 10:44:36 BDT
Shakespeare says:
Point well taken, although it is only relevant to the first section in the book.
However, for many of us who are studying linguistics for the first time at university, this is a good source that gives us a glimpse of what we are getting into... In other words, before we can go swimming in the deep waters, someone needs to show us how to wade through the shallows first, which is exactly what this book does.
Notwithstanding, the relevance of your argument is such that it really does merit to be committed to print. Have you ever thought of writing a book on the topic? I think it would be a great idea! Cheers! M.
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