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Re: [evol-psych] Bushman click languages

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  • H.M. Hubey
    I hate to do this, but... I have written parts of these on various mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups, but not all together in one piece. Perhaps it is time
    Message 1 of 33 , Aug 31 7:25 PM
      I hate to do this, but...

      I have written parts of these on various mailing lists and Usenet newsgroups, but not all together
      in one piece. Perhaps it is time to tie some pieces together in a more coherent fashion...

      Larry Trask wrote:
      --On Friday, August 30, 2002 7:13 am +0200 Marc Washington
      <best@...> wrote:
      At the turn of the 19th century, one could encounter literature speaking
      about the similarity between the click language of the hamdryas baboon and
      through imitative mimickry, the click language of the Bushman. I've not
      been able to find anything recent. Can anyone refer me to literature on
      the click language of the Khoisan and its possible relation to the click
      language of African apes? Is there literature which discusses the points
      of contention between those who say there is and those who say there
      isn't a relationship between the two.
      First, baboons are not apes, but monkeys.

      Minor quibble.
      Second, baboons do not have a "language".  It may well be true that 
      hamadryas baboons emit some click-like noises, but those noises do not 
      constitute a language.

      There are
      1. formal languages (e.g. finite state grammars, context-free languages, etc)
      2. natural human languages (e.g. English, Japanese, etc)
      3. artificial human languages (e.g. Esperanto)


      linguists do not certify (and never did) what "language" is.

      I suggest you get used to this.

      Third, the term 'click' is being used purely impressionistically here, and 
      no content has been identified.  By what criteria do we decide that a given 
      noise is, or is not, a click?

      Ridiculous assertion. "Click" is unusual in world's natural human languages. And it is just as good a
      way to describe such languages as anything else, e.g. agglutinative, inflective, etc.

      Fourth, the African peoples who speak the so-called "Khoisan" languages do 
      not have a "click language", in the sense of a language consisting of 

      Usual nitpicking nonsense.
      all of them are descended from a common ancestor.  Click consonants in 
      southern Africa are what we call an "areal feature".
      I already suggested that linguists should think deeply about what is meant by "areal" too
      many times to repeat.

      Fifth, the so-called click languages are all spoken in southern Africa, 
      while all the sources in my office agree that hamadryas baboons are found 
      only in northeastern Africa and in Arabia.  

      As I have already indicated on this list and on newsgroups, McEvedy shows (among other things)
      that  the these languages were originally spoken all the way up north to Egypt and along Eastern
      Africa before the Bantu speakers pushed them south.

      This doesn't look very good for 
      an "imitative mimickry" scenario -- not that I would in any case take 
      seriously a proposal that a human language is modelled on animal noises. 
      That stuff, I'm glad to say, went out the window generations ago.
      Actually some of this got started a few years ago when I joined discussion on a an Internet/Usenet newsgroup
      about the reasons why Egyptians painted themselves red (males), their females yellow, Asiatics
      white and Negroids black. I suggested that they (like Native Americans and Asians) lacked certain
      pigmentation and that they turned red (copper colored) in the sun, while the women (being  at home
      in the shade) had a yellowish tint. Soon after that (a few weeks at most) genetic evidence was
      posted that some of the peoples of the Southern Sudan (and naturally the Bushmen) were the
      most representative (e.g. most perfect average) amongst all humans. Now, it is well known that
      the Bushmen are short, have epicanthic folds, and have the pigmentation that produces a yellowish
      or reddish skin tint. I suggested at the time, that it is too ridiculous to think that humanoids who
      evolved in Africa for millions of years would not be black. Hence, I thought that these people were
      actually the descendants of mixing of Neandertals and Africans (not Negroids). There is much
      confusion of what is African and what is Negroid. I attest this to the confusion amongst the
      researchers to think clearly about what matters without feeling guilt about what was done to
      West Africans (Negroids) by Europeans, and efforts to compensate for such guilt feelings.

      It is clearly not necesary for all Africans to be Negroids. It seems like a real simple idea
      but exactly because it is such a simple idea it seems to escape people so eager they are
      to lump all Africans together into a big mess.

      However, it is clear that just as the Neandertals were an extreme mutation, it is quite possible
      that the West Africans (Negroids) were also an extreme mutation and that other "Africans"
      (presumably some of whom migrated out of Africa) were not Negroids at all. Some of those
      that stayed behind likely got mixed with the Negroids (presumably Bantu speakers).

      Sixth, while I haven't seen the 19th-century literature mentioned, I can't 
      believe it's anything other than ignorant and offensive racist nonsense. 
      If this literature has dried up -- and I hope it has -- then maybe that's 
      just a piece of evidence that we are learning to put racist rubbish behind 

      I do not know what you are referring to but I do not see why insinuating that humans might have
      started off their "speaking" by some acts similar to what our relatives do is offensive to anyone.

      Some of our predecessors were all too eager to see links between Africans 
      on the one hand and apes or monkeys on the other.  It's long since past 
      time to forget about this stuff.  If somebody shows that the booming snorts 
      emitted by elephant seals involve nasal resonance, what would you think of 
      a proposal to link the "nasal languages" of elephant seals and Frenchmen? 

      I do not see any reason why what some of our precedessors did is relevant. Where does it say that
      Africans (by which most people mean Negroids) are animal-like? The books on origin of human languages
      are probably almost all total speculation, most of them bad. So the proposal is no worse than books already
      published (e.g. Lieberman).

      It is not a good idea to project one's feelings onto others. Freud certainly would have called a spade a spade.

      M. Hubey
      hubeyh@... /\/\/\/\//\/\/\/\/\/\/http://www.csam.montclair.edu/~hubey

    • Andy Lock
      At 11:58 9/09/2002 -0500, Steven Ravett Brown wrote on Kanzi, Sue ... There are also useful distinctions one can make ontogenetically. That is, rejection
      Message 33 of 33 , Sep 11, 2002
        At 11:58 9/09/2002 -0500, Steven Ravett Brown wrote on Kanzi, Sue
        Savage-Rumbaugh and negation:

        >Well, I don't know enough about her to comment on the significance of her
        >silence... but what you're saying seems like a good point. Clearly, the next
        >step is to carefully test the general status of negation in animal
        >communications, which I gather no one has really done. I assume that you
        >don't count warning sounds, etc., as negations?

        There are also useful distinctions one can make ontogenetically. That is,
        rejection comes in before denial. Thus, an offer of a spoonful of food can
        be rejected by turning the head away (which historically has been
        hypothesised as where head shaking for 'no' might come from - but in my
        view this is difficult to test), and later a question can be rejected with
        a vocal gesture such as 'Do you want some more?'; 'No'. This doesn't
        appear, prime facie, to represent much of an advance.

        Denial, on the other hand, requires infants to have constructed a
        propositional stance such that they can comment on things other than from
        their own implied perspective: 'Is this red?'; 'No' (it's blue)'. This
        comes in much later, though still can be pre-syntactic.

        I think Lois Bloom was the first to write on this in the early '70s, but
        I'd need to check.

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