The main idea of this book is to demonstrate that seemingly exceeding capacity and power of human brain comparatively to what is required for survival does make sense from evolutionary point of view. The book designed to demonstrate specific, consecutive, and evolutionary meaningful steps that necessarily led to development of human intelligence as necessary tool for developing language and cultural technology of its acquisition. All this is based on analysis of languages and their development and use.
- Wallace’s Problem
The Wallace’s problem is an explanatory problem of human brain, which is significantly more powerful than it should be from strait forward evolutionary point of view. For example, our close relatives – apes have quite a bit less brainpower, but nevertheless survive just fine. So why would humans have such a powerful mind is a puzzle, obviously if we disregard religious explanation. Darwin’s explanation was incomplete and it mainly refer to mind and self-consciousness as side effect of other facilities such as use of language. Author breaks down the problem into three parts: escape from animal communications, acquisition of basic structures of language, and development contemporary abstract languages capable to support self-consciousness. The book is an attempt to look for answer for these questions in details and, in process, resolve the Wallace’s problems.
- Generative Theory.
This is about generative theory of linguistics. It starts with Chomsky and his idea of innate language structure, which by now is mainly discarded. It then proceeds to review some half dozen theories from standard to minimalist.
- The “Specialness” of Humans
This chapter looks at specificity of humans comparatively with all other animals in their development and use of language. Author discusses relative weight of genetics vs. learning in language acquisition and overall treatment of humans in scientific studies. In process, he comes up with notion of Evo-Devo that is evolutionary development biology, which studies genetics of organism and how it was produced by evolutionary development. After reviewing the idea of component feature author moves to what he calls “the ladder to humans”, which means researching primates on the way to understanding humans. All this done based on detailed review of scientific literature.
- From Animal Communication to Protolanguage
It starts with characterization of language as the 8th major transition in evolutions after such heavies as origin of life, multicell organisms, and so on. After that author goes into discussion of appearance of cognition and how it linked to appearance of language. He provides evidence pro and contra of high level of cognition in animals and pre-human relics. He follows it with discussion of evolutionary pressures, especially intergroup conflict that he designates as “Confrontational Scavenging and Displacement”. In short, with intergroup conflict clearly providing advantages to the group. This advantage is capable supporting higher level of coordinated planning and actions. Consequently, the importance of means of communications became very important. Obviously, this created a very strong evolutionary pressure for development of a language.
- Universal Grammar
Here author discusses an idea of universal grammar, which was pretty much discarded by the latest scientific developments. However even if it is so, the direct link between brain’s development and language structure is strong and author discusses in detail how it is build and specific algorithms used for these processes.
- Variations and Change
This chapter moves away from biological evolution to cultural one and starts with discussion on variation and need for it from the language side. It establishes connection by defining change as temporal extension of variation. After that author looks at linguistic specifics such as word order, tense modality, grammatization of relations between words, and other objects. At the end author looks at causes of change and objections to his model.
- Language “Acquisition”
Here author looks at language acquisition starting with commonly accepted Language Acquisition Device (LED). After that he provides an alternative model and uses child language acquisition process to demonstrate how it happens, starting with One-Word stage, then Two-Words, then Telegraphic Speech and all the way to comparing English and French as examples of different ways of negation. Also, interesting here is discussion of an Error as the source of Insight.
This is about mixing process when people with different languages interact, in process creating some linguistic mix useful for communication. Author discusses continuum of creoles existing in Caribbean and other places and how language changes from one group to another demonstrating failure of innate language model explain this process. He also reviews children language vs. adult and various pidgin variations.
- Homo Sapiens Loquens
In this last chapter author summarizes his position providing an analog of human development as 3 rooms and elevator, where the first room is confrontational scavenging niche. After spending long enough time in this room humanity moved to the second room: symbolism, leaving behind other group surviving species such as ants and bees. When symbolism had developed enough, the move to the third room becomes inevitable. This room is self-organizing brain or in other words cultural learning ability that humans developed. This last room contains an elevator that is language, which allowed humanity quickly moving up to become dominating species. At the end author summarizes his position in such way:
MY TAKE ON IT:
I believe this is a good model of human development and I would add that the idea of Wallace’s problem could be entertained only if one forgets that the main competitor of a human being in his/her struggle for survival is another human being and in this struggle to have more powerful brain and be able to outsmart another human is the necessity of survival. Moreover it is not limited to an individual, but also extended to a group. As anybody who ever thought about huge military experience of humanity understands, the functionality provided by the brain: planning, communication, ability for direct synchronized action of the group of individuals, and ability to correct these action per results of feedback analysis, are necessary tools of warfare. Obviously the people who are better at it get to obtain more natural resources and consequently to pass more of their genes to the next generation making brain a necessary survival tool without which humans could not survive pressure from other humans.