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Wednesday, 27 May 2015
The Evolution of Language, From Animals to Analogy

Language is a communication tool that relies very heavily on analogy. In fact, according to Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander, authors of Surfaces and Essences: Analogy As the Fuel and Fire of Thinking (2013), analogy plays a fundamental role in the very way we think.

Hofstadter now admits that when he wrote his book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which is full of daring analogies and became something of a cult in the 1980s, he had not really explored all the implications of analogy as a way of transferring knowledge from one field to another. Today, however, he regards analogy as central to all human experience. According to Hofstadter, by drawing on specific isolated experiences to develop first categories and then concepts with analogous properties, we use the mechanism of analogy to create the abstractions that we then use to build complex mental constructs. This mental process of analogy also no doubt explains why we find it so easy to use and understand metaphors, which we employ so often in our everyday language.

The process of analogy also suggests how human language may have evolved gradually, because the more research that is done on the subject, the more we learn about the richness of animal communication, as Jean-Claude Ameisen describes so well in a 2013 episode of his radio program Sur les Épaules de Darwin (for the podcast, in French, follow the second link below). Language, which was for so long considered the single most distinctive trait of human beings, now increasingly seems to be one we share with our primate cousins. The difference between the language of humans and that of other animals more and more seems to be one of degree rather than of kind.

As to the debate about whether the origins of human language are vocal or gestural, as discussed in Ameisen’s broadcast and in the article available from the third link below, some recent data support both positions, demonstrating all the richness of the gestural language of chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

i_lien Comment l’analogie structure-t-elle notre pensée ?
i_lien Aux origines du langage
i_lien Chimpanzee gestures deciphered in ‘world first’ after scientists decode foot stomps and hand flings

From Thought to Language | 2 comments »

2 comments at; “The Evolution of Language, From Animals to Analogy”

  1. Tariq Javid says:

    This is very interesting topic as it forms the basis of all known and unknown knowledge. It is mentioned in a source that human is gifted with the knowledge of name of things. As things have variations, therefore, humans use this inside knowledge to develop analogies, even across complex disciplines; and even without using a language.

  2. Mojtaba Khalid says:

    It’s quite obvious that language in its most basic form is probably a mapping function. If that’s true then the study of language should be concerned with identifying the sets involved and the function/functions operating on them. computationally human language seems to be running a calculus that is less concerned with communication than we would like to admit(e.g, the use of ambiguity). This makes communication a by product of the design of language not a main feature. This may seem counter intuitive, but so is special and general relativity.    

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