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From tool in general

to language tool in particular.

Essay.

An action theoretical consideration about the possibility that the charachteristical


manipuation of tools could provide the specific circumstances for the emergence of
“language” as a particular skill.

Dr. John Gilbert


I. Introduction
II. Transition
1. Illustration: two types of world
2. Qualitative rupture and the introduction of “object” as cognitive scheme
3. Illustration: timeframe
4. Clarification about the object
5. Associability and the characteristic of displacement
III. Modification
1. Dimensions
2. The primordial motivation
3. The experience
4. Where the change is taking up
5. Another input, another experience: new contents
6. Another input, another experience: formal characteristics.
1. Bandwidth
2. Dilation, phase shift and increase of complexity
3. Self initiation
4. Selfreferentiality and detachment
5. The overall effect on the experience
Transition and modification: synopsis
IV. Irreversibility
1. Self initiated imaginativity as by-product
2. The pre-imaginative point of entry
3. Consolidation
4. Cognitive reorganisation
5. The dominance of the reorganisation as inhibition reinforcer
6. Amnesia
7. The method: a case of implicit learning
8. Automatization
9. Conclusion
V. Language, prevailing points of view
1. Historical points of view
2. The common sense or folk psychological opinion
3. The dominant or mainstream paradigm
4. Textbook illustrations
5. Local versus universal grammar: different functionality.
6. Synthesis
7. The questions
8. Schematized summary

VI. From tool in general to language tool in particular


1. The effect of the introduction of the object as newly introduced scheme
1. The initial situation and the introduction of the scheme
2. The importance of the object
3. The system logic of manipulation
4. Categorization of objects
5. Displacement, freedom and reification
2. Language: information, syntax, pragmatics and reality construction
1. Language entities as physical objects
2. The associative characteristic transforms the object into a stimulus
3. From ecstasy to information
4. The importance of information stimulates the skill of manipulation
5. The system logic of manipulation as substrate of generativity
6. Information and construction of reality as functions of imagination
a) The informative dimension: transferring information
b) The informative dimension: pragmatics
c) Construction of reality
7. The plural functional object of language: overview
3. The language trap as variation of irreversibility
VII. Conclusion

ABSTRACT

Flint knapping is not only about tool fabrication. It is suggested that it at the same time
expresses the introduction of the cognitive scheme of “an object” in a world originally
exclusively filled with events and dynamic interactions. So the introduction of the named
scheme involves reorganisation of the cognitive point of view on the Umwelt.
The first part of this essay is about the implications and effects of the introduction of the
object in a world consisting of events. In the first chapter the transition from a world of
events to a cultural dimensional world in which objects and reifications have their
interrelated location is described. The second chapter turns the attention to the changes
evoked by the previously named transition. In the third chapter it is clarified why, once
the transition has taken place, it seems impossible to return to the previous cognitive
perspective, this is “seeing” the Umwelt as full of events the organism is engaged in.
The second main part opens with introduction on the commonsense as well as the
mainstream understandings of and conceptions on language. The following chapter
demonstrates that the properties when dealing in an objectivated world described in the
first main part, are also manifestly present in language.
The hypothesis is formulated that language practice is a variation on the practice with
objects, tools in particular.
I. Introduction

Contrary to the evoked expectations, this view does not in the first place present itself as
a view on language, but as an approach on handling tools.
The introduction of tools created unintentionally but at the same time unavoidably the
exaptive conditions from which language could emerge, language as nowadays defined
and understood1.
This rather curious approach, having language as central subject but actually discussing
mainly tool mediated manipulation, defines the structure of the hereby presented
exposition.

The first chapter with “transition” as heading, will draw attention on a transition mainly
driven by the introduction of tool use. The effects of it are not restricted to the manner
the acting hominid is in the world. The named introduction creates exaptively the
conditions for the emergence of other skills, such as the manipulation of imagination, a
subject that which will be of central importance in the forthcoming exposition.
“Exaptative” stresses the fact that the creation of the convenient circumstances for the
emergence of new skills is involuntary2. Understood as such, new techniques and
possibilities are a not the intented consequence or product. This is in contrast with the
tacit prevailing belief that some developments are realised in order to bring a certain
competence into existence.

In the second chapter, “the modifications” showing themselves as effects in the final
stage of the transition, are discussed. The question rising at this point is what the impact
might be of the new way of being-in-the-world. How will this influence perception and
experience?

The experiencing human being will have seemed to be ended up in another dimension or
world. Will it still be possible to comprehend this altered creature as a primate, living in
the conditions prior to the change? And if not, is the alteration absolute or gradual and in
the last case can the human in question to a certain degree still be understood as a
primate? This question probing into the character and the degree of irreversibility is the
theme of the third chapter.

The fourth chapter is about language itself. A first part offers an informative survey on
the folk psychological and the mainstream understandings about what language is and
does. This will allow gathering the main characteristics of language and organise these in
one overall scheme.

In the second part of the same chapter reflection on the content of the previous chapters
is made. The purpose is to check if the main characteristics mentioned here fore are not
in some form already present in the pre- or rather alinguistic stage.

This will allow the fourth chapter to be concluded by approaching language in another
manner and this without the loss of the already recognized functionality i.e. to
communicate information. It provides a more tangible and plausible alternative for the
current dominant suggestion of a language faculty popping up from an so far hard if not
impossible to find, congenital kernel. So far for the review of what has to come.

1
The actual conceptualisation of language, hence the modern approach is a rather recent historical fact. It can be
related to the interpretation of Arnauld and Lancelot at Les Petite Ecoles de Port Royal des Champs (not all that
th
far of Paris) of the 17 century. Cfr. where Ingold points out that the study of language as a scientific discipline
th
started to take form during the 18 century (Gibson & Ingold, 1993:457)
2
This is precisely the reason why Gould and Vbra introduced this term, replacing “preadaptation” which included
an tacit suggestion that a particular adaptation took place “in order to”. This distinction between “in order to” and
“by” or “following down from” can be linked to the difference between Lamarck and Darwin.
In the remainder of this introductive part, insights that are of some importance for the
comprehension of the developed line of thought, will be offered.

The transition from a simple act to a sophisticated form of mediated behaviour can in
every respect been estimated as remarkable. This is entirely already the case where the
sophisticated application of tools undeniably brings new cognitive schemes to light.
The treatment of silex consisting of the repeatedly striking off of flakes, is not thinkable
in the context of an event. In an event being fully dynamical, the existence of the
organism is completely absorbed in the dynamics of the Umwelt the organism is part of.
The repeatedly striking off of flakes presupposes that the event being primordially
dynamic, gets reificated to a static form, becoming an object3. This happening is an
indication for the occurrence of a cognitive scheme differing from that of an event-
approach4. Furthermore where an event expresses a dynamical fluctuating relation, “an
object” brings a statical three dimensionality in which the object is situated to
expression, hence another new cognitive scheme.
Furthermore again: the object as a new entity creates a semantic tension5 bringing “the
subject” as counterpart into cognitive existence. For the object as the “thing” onto which
the flaking activity is done, introduces – better still installs - the labour providing
instance as an identifiable entity, the subject directed onto the object.
Schemes as the fore mentioned - of an object, of a subject and of the reificated relation
of the second onto the first – have in the actual fully culturized experience the character
of an implicit evidence. They are part of the “natural” way the actual man experiences his
world (Urglaube). But in spite of the evidential character of the experience, the schemes
are cognitive constructs which have put aside older event based cognitive versions.

The sophisticated handling of tools does more then bringing new cognitive schemes to
light. It has exaptively created the conditions for the coming into being of the skill which
in a later stage will be called “language”6. Taking into account the possibilities following
there from and the final importance of the impact of language on the existence of man
compared with that of other species, this is not only a remarkable happening, it can
without exaggeration be thought of as special.

The point of view taking in this exposition is also rather peculiar.


Researching the favourable circumstances for language to have emerged, generally an
urge to communicate is assumed to be present in humans. The idea that the human
wants to inform his conspecifics is evidentially present7. And language is the most
suitable instrument for that purpose. From this background setting the problem which
needs clarification takes form. What was language, or rather protolanguage like? Has
there been a succession in the means and if so in what order (from gestural to vocal…).
All questions about the manifested form of the communicative device.

3
A certain degree or form of this idea is present where Sakatayana (Indian grammarian 8the century BC)
suggests that most of the nouns (so referring to objects) are derivations of verbs.
4
See also “Although such Olduvai artifactual forms are technologically simple, some important principles of
flaking stone had been mastered by two million years ago. These include (a) the ability to recognize acute angles
on cores to serve as striking platforms from which to detach flakes and fragments, and (b) good hand-eye
coordination when flaking stone, including the dexterity to strike the core with a hammerstone with a sharp,
glancing blow. It would appear that a strong power grip, as well as a strong precision grip, was characteristic of
early hominid tool-making populations at this time.”
Nicholas Toth & Kathy Schick, Early Stone Industries, in Gibson and Ingold, 1993:349.
5
Meaning is contextual embedded, not isolated nor standing on its own. A term can in relation to a particular
context have a different meaning. Sheppard and flock are understood differently in a religious and in a ecological
context .
6
What could be called ‘contextual language readiness’ in difference with the language readiness Arbib is talking
about in the case of mirror neurons.
7
This is even the case for gestural theoretical approaches such as put forword by Corballis, since the problem
there is how the transition could have taken place from the gestural to the vocal modus. A problem that
presupposes the existence of the communicative act whatever the form of it. (From Hand to Mouth, 2002).
For the following exposition, another point of entry has been chosen for in which the
following problem is central.
Information as understood in a human communicative setting, consists for the majority
of references towards items which are not present in the perceptible context. The
informative quality rests on imaginative displacements in time and space, a subject which
later will thoroughly be discussed. This however begs the question: how could such an
informative quality – referring to items distant in time and space – arise from an initially
“animal” condition whereby the organism is fully engaged in a primary motivated relation
with events constituting the Umwelt?8
So in this case no question is asked about the form the communication takes (implicating
there is already informative communication present). Here the question about the
conditions themselves enabling the fore mentioned informative quality, is asked. What
makes displacement possible?
Formulated otherwise:
Not the (gestural or vocal) means are functionally subsidiary to an already existing urge
to inform as tacitly taken for granted; what here will be proposed is the reverse i.e. the
possibility to inform is a spin-off or initially unintended product of the use of means in the
form of tools. If those means or more precisely tools have the form of gesture or vocal, is
less or even not relevant for the proposed line of thinking.

The uncommonly approach is also noticeable in the appreciation of motor skills.


Assigning central value to the motoric capacity when it comes to understand language
provenance, is not all that rare9. But the ideas unfolded here go further than that. Since
the attention is not drawn to the motoric ability as part of a global act, the attention here
is directed to the acting organism as a whole, to the global acting itself in particular when
the mentioned act is mediated by tools.

The here proposed understanding of language and communication is also unusual.


In contrast, the general accepted view10 is rather anthropomorphic11. This is then taken
as criterion in order to evaluate the development of other communicative forms.
Man has a very specific idea about language and communication.
The latter is been thought of as the exchange of coded content information by the means
of language in order to put semantic content in some form (informare) enabling to bring
it over (communicare i.e. sharing it with the community). This however is a
conceptualisation built on the experience as substrate, the phenomenon12 human beings
have when they are engaged in the act of communicating. From the experience that
communication seems to be the transference of thoughts and all kinds of mutually
understandable meanings by the use of language, is concluded that this is also what the
operation of communication consists of. But the experience does not necessarily provide
a factual description of what underneath really is going on, of which operations give rise
to which effect during the communicative act13.

8
Cfr. where Tomasello (2003) observes that animal communication neither contains noncommittal messages
such as “what a nice day”, nor makes references to displacements in time and space. “Displacement” can be
discussed in the case of bees for instances. But this kind of indication in space is restricted to a very specific case
(where the nectar is to be gathered). The character of content of these messages is not arbitrary nor contingent
at all.
9
The approach of Robin Allot is exemplar in this case.
10
Meaning the western man and then also restricted to the period starting second half of the 17th century, in
particular with the influence of Descartes and the views related to ‘Port Royal’.
11
Darwin suggests a gradual transition. This evidently strengthens the idea that also (certain) animals have
language (Breackman 2005:123).
12
As mentioned previously: a historical related experience.
13
For instance in the case a physical means reactivates a neural configuration as will be explained later in the
text.
This anthropomorphic experience coloured conceptualisation, get then projected onto
communicative interaction of another kind such as kinds of sign language and also onto
the apparently communicative interactions of other organisms14.
This is then taken as criterion to evaluate the degree of correspondence the other forms
show compared with typical human language use15.
Thereby the question if the so called communication within species of the animal
kingdom is rightfully comparable with human language16 gets completely neglected.
It seems as plausible to postulate the idea that the so called animal “signals” 17 are
nothing else then the external dimension of the dynamical circumstances – in human
terms one would call this the psychic state of affairs - the animal finds himself in under
the pressure of the perceptions it undergoes. Those dynamical circumstances – within a
communicative discourse all to hastily labelled as signals - then get perceived by other
creatures. Their interactive behaviour then gets rewarded or punished. That’s all there is
to this whole communicative context18: a perceivable external dimension followed by a
rewarded or punished interaction. This particular interpretation may not provoke the
conclusion that the organism in question is no more than a purely mechanistic operating
entity. Such conclusion is al to hastily made19. The organism is and remains under all
circumstances a primarily motivated and entirely dynamic living entity, a basic condition
which is also the case for a hominid.
The fore mentioned cycle is in no way related to the human concept of the transferring of
content information, let alone the expression and transmission of thought20.
A radical discrepancy between communicative intention as is the case with humans and a
communicative effect as the behaviour of animals has to be drawn. It is highly
questionable if communicative intention characterizing human communication even takes
place in animal interaction, be it that line of demarcation in the case of threatening or
balts behaviour is rather thin.

Apart of the above criticism on the anthropomorphic interpretation of language and


communication, another obstructive idea with respect to language gets formulation.
Descartes proposes that the language faculty a) is innate and b) is the feature that
characterizes the human. This tacitly implicates an evidential necessity: without language
there is no human in the cultural designation. There is a human biological kind but no
human in the sense of a cultural peculiarity which makes this kind very different in
respect to all other species.
But further in de coming text, the idea will be unfolded that the introduction of the skill
generally recognized as language, is culturally contingent. It has been coming into being

14
Such as the properties summed up by Hockett. Owings & Morton, 1998, and Owren & Rendell, 2001 , warn
against the use of human language as a framework in order to evaluate nonhuman communication.
15
Braeckman refers to Darwin’s gradualism which would have been the impulse for the research into language of
nonhuman primates during the previous en the actual century. If the transition between (sub)kinds would have
been gradual, then this would also have been the case for the language faculty. So, communicative modes of
humans and other primates would not be of a radical different order, but would rather be different developmental
stages of a common faculty. (Braeckman J. 2001: 123)
16
This is referring to information transmission of which the content implicates displacement in time and space.
17
Observe that the term “signal” is embedded in a communicative discourse.
18
Not to understand as “no more then that” but as “not much”.
19
A nice illustration for such a problematic reduction is expressed by the following text:
“What is the precise property that distinguishes man from other animals?
The question has ancient philosophical provenience (the featherless biped), but several sciences as well as
scientific misunderstandings depend to this day on the choice of answer to this simple question. Is it the ability to
speak which makes us differ from other species — like Noam Chomsky claims — or is it the ability to form cultural
institutions? Is it a decisive jump in intelligence conceived of as information processing, is it consciousness —
which would imply that other animals are consciousless automata, or is it self-consciousness and the possibility of
reflection? A widespread and easy way to tackle these questions is to see all these differences as interdependent,
so that language, society, consciousness and so on constitute one decisive difference defining humanity. The
problem in such a solution is that animals then, in contradistinction, become rather simple creatures, even more
limited than Cartesian automata.” Stjernfelt F., 2000.
20
Cfr. Locke.
thanks to the sophisticated handling of tools. This handling has no genetic predestination.
It became possible within the exaptive framework in which bipedalism, the freeing of the
upper limbs, the particular position of the thumb enabling fine grip etc. already have
been taken place21. This created the convenient exaptive niche for the skill – later called
language – to come into being. But as one can notice this could only take place thanks to
a series of themselves contingent conditions. The staying away of one of these could
have made that “language” never would have seen light. This would have lead to a
hominid form amongst all other biological species, but not to a special cultural form
setting itself apart of all the other species.

Points of view as the above would like to stress that language and communication in their
general accepted appreciation are relative concepts. They are related to the way they are
experienced within a folk psychological framework.

There is however a twist in the named general accepted appreciation.


Namely, the experience is not taken as a phenomenon. It is not even taken as an
experience, but as a token that naively seems to refer directly to a factual existing
instance.
So taken, the term “language” belongs to the same kind of terms such as
“consciousness” and “mind”. Thereby the fact of the existence of the concept seems
without any fundamental critical research to suggest the existence of an instance
underlying the concept.
One experiences something mindlike provoking in one and the same movement the
doubtless existence of an underlying mind instance. There is something as language in
the conceptual formed experience, so there is really something there as a language-
instance or rather a language-organ as Chomsky would have formulated in his early
days22.

The exposition at hand will at the same time offer an alternative for two related, general
accepted assumptions which are susceptible for critique.
First of all, language often gets seen as the answer to a need which came into being
under the pressure of groups growing in number of participants and thus becoming more
complex in structure and government. This is a teleological point of view picturing man
motivated by a drive to communicate, i.e. he had to transfer predicative information.
This view stands in opposition to a more relaxed bottom up ordering in which complex
group structures become possible as the consequence of a skill allowing better intergroup
regulation and internal group communication. This skill consists of the ability to provoke
imaginative displacements in space and time, i.e. the aforementioned transference of
predicative information. The latter option obeys Occam’s razor not to presuppose more
than strictly necessary.
The following citation from the critical review of “The symbolic species” of Deacon by
Stjernfelt (2000) illustrates a second tacit assumption.
“Indices constitute the presupposition for any sign to connect to actual phenomena in
the surrounding world (smoke as a sign for fire, e.g.).”
This sentence might at first sight seem evident and as such quite innocent, but it exposes
a particular point of view. It depicts the structure of a sign, whatever the form or
character of it, in relation to a phenomenon in the world. This, as a matter of fact is
nothing else than the template for what can be taken as a representation. But that is a
quite recent formed structure embedded in the “Grammaire Generale” of the school of
“Port Royal” dating from the 17th century. In this view an object a) gets appreciated and
recognized as a sign, b) referring to something in the world. It can clearly been
differentiated from the medieval sign which was a thing amongst other natural things, a
manifestation of the unfolding of god into nature. The former interpretation can also be
21
Already mentioned by Lactantius in 325AC (Hewes in Gibson & Ingold 1993:22), see also Darwin in ‘Descent
of man’ (1871:52).
22
Recent views on language will be mentioned in “V. Language 1. Historical…”
distinguished from “smoke” next to flames as different aspects of a monistic experience
of a full blown fire event.
A sign understood and taken as something23 standing for something else, at least
referring to that something else and so representing it, can at the very moment in the
cultural evolution discussed in this paper, not be thought of yet.
But in semiotic theories such as these of Peirce and Deacon, and this is the presumption
focussed here, the representative function of a sign gets taken as an implicit evidence.
This is an anachronistically backfolding, taking a particular temporal interpretation as an
universal and as an atemporal property.

The presented model not only offers a draft about the possible way language as a skill
could have been coming into being. Precisely the approach of language as a skill, points
to the different practical operations which need to be performed in order to bring
language into its actual existent practise. In this sense the here presented text not only
offers a (glotto-)genetic point of view, but also points to a set of operations which have
to be performed in the actuality in order to instantiate a language based communicative
act.
Rounding-off this introduction, the points of interest can be summed up as following.
The hereby presented text will reflect the results of a previously carried out research into
the conditions which make a coming into being possible. This means that the answer to
the question which were the circumstances providing the emergence of language, will be
formulated. The methodological perspective has affiliations with a action theoretical
approach. This is meaning that language will be understood as a manipulative act. In the
end the focus will mainly be directed onto the information transmission effect. The
coming into being of this skill is embedded in the sophisticated handling of tools. Insofar
reference would be made to universal occurring patterns underpinning language, such as
the universal grammar Chomsky is talking about, then the named patterns will be
affiliated with a logic of handling, in particular the case in which tools are integrated in
the manipulative act.

In this introduction, the title page, table of contents, abstract and the
introductory chapter have been presented.

23
According to Walter Ong (1982) the fact that linguistic sign became considered being an manipulatable object,
was facilitated by the introduction of printing whereby a sign became an letter object to be ranged on a page (also
literally an object).