Language, spoken (speech) and written (writing- which has existed for about 6000 years), is our primary means of communication. Language is formed as a result of numerous factors namely biological evolution, individual learning, and cultural transmission. Like culture, in general, of which language is a part, language is transmitted through learning as part of enculturation. Language is based on arbitrary, learned associations between words and the things for which they stand. In this research paper, the evolution of cultural and biological communication of language has been studied; the role played by English Language in this cultural communication has also been examined. A framework has been formulated for analyzing cultural communication amongst people. Language in its social cultural context has been studied, different dialects and styles have been assessed and historical linguistics has also been critically analyzed.
The most essential question to be tackled in considering language evolution is whether: Language should be treated as a cultural product, corresponding to music, art, or religion, which have been wrought through processes of collective creations and cultural diffusion from person to person and generation to generation? Or, should language rather be viewed as a genetic acquisition, such that the explicit patterns of human language are viewed as generated by a language acquisition device? (Chater & Christiansen, 2009)
The first perspective has previously been quite dominant. For example, notable theorists such as Von Humboldt (1836/1999) and other 19th-century philologists (e.g. Franz Bopp and August Schleicher) considered language to be a cultural and historical phenomenon and saw the variety of the world’s languages as arising through processes of splitting and change. There were attempts made to understand the “tree” from which the world’s languages which could be derived by philological analysis and which consequently gave Charles Darwin a framework for the outline of biological evolution. Thus, Darwin drew comparisons between the process of biological evolution observed in the natural world, and the process of cultural evolution was revealed in the history of the world’s languages. (Chater & Christiansen, 2009)
However, an astounding reversal occurred in the concluding half of the 20th century. The field of linguistics became dominated by the supposition that human language is created by a cognitive process, which provides a proposal for universal patterns of language structure, and which is intrinsically obtained rather than acquired through learning from cultural transmission. (Evans & Levinson, 1995)
This assumption takes its cue from Noam Chomsky’s assertion that the problem of language acquisition, given the evidence available to the child is so difficult that its solution must depend on the presence of a great deal of prior linguistic construction and this prior linguistic construction cannot be learned through cultural processes but instead must be innately acquired. (Chater & Christiansen, 2009)
From this perspective, it was thereby concluded that linguistic processes are a part of biology and these processes give rise to a biological product known as Universal Grammar (U.G). However, by providing arguments, we can rule out the notion that evolution of U.G is based on a biological ground. (Harnad, 2008)
If Universal Grammar is disregarded, what other alternative theory is possible? Therefore, we return back to the pre-Chomskian stance which states that the development of language is a process of cultural evolution- a process in which potent pressures determine the degree to which explicit linguistic forms are easy to learn, easy to use and easy to speak. Consequently, features of language, which are easy to learn and comprehend, and have a verbal function, will be “stamped in” and enhanced for subsequent generations of language users, while linguistic blueprints which are not that easy to learn or use or which don’t hold much value for the users of language, will be “stamped out.” Close connection between languages and language users occurs not because language users have a cognitive-language processing mechanism, but because language has been formed through the process of cultural evolution by the brain. Hence, to conclude language is both a cultural and biological phenomenon. (Chater & Christiansen, 2009)
Culture consists of all items that are reproduced through contact with individuals. The direct cultural function of a cultural item is the historical product of the effect that it has produced in the past. For instance, a hammer, even if it is used as a paperweight, has the direct cultural function of helping to drive nails, because it is the recurring performance of this effect in the past (helping to drive nails) by hammers that induces them to be produced again and again. (Origgi, Gloria, Sperber, & Dan, 2000)
Language items are cultural items. Language is an intricate composition of different devices. A “linguistic tool” can be a word, a tonal inflection, a stress pattern, a system of punctuation that a verbally spoken or written language may have. (Origgi, Gloria, Sperber, & Dan, 2000)
Using language is a resolute activity that needs monitoring for its successful performance. There must also be a pattern of correspondence between a speaker who has uttered a certain phrase of language and the hearer’s response to this phrase of language. It is this consistency which ensures that a particular phrase of language is being used again and again. (Origgi, Gloria, Sperber, & Dan, 2000)
“The use of a linguistic device on a given occasion, by a speaker with his or her own purposes, endows this token of the device with a derived proper function. This derived proper function may be a mere tokening without modification of its direct proper function (as when a word is used to convey just its conventional meaning) or it may be different from its direct proper function (as in the case of an indexical, or of a non-conventional metaphor).” (Origgi, Gloria, Sperber, & Dan, 2000)
Role played by English in Cultural Communication
There are also derived functions in linguistic devices of a biological type. For example: the English word “now” has both public tokens i.e. indications (one every time it is uttered) and mental tokens. There are two types of mental tokens. There is a mental token each time the word “now” is voiced or understood i.e. a mental depiction of the articulated word. There is also, at a more basic level, in all individuals, the capability of using the word “now”, an entry for “now” in the mental dictionary which is included in their understanding of the English Language. This mental lexical entry is a mental version of the commonly used word in the English Language. It is a cultural creation, with a cultural direct proper function. In addition, it is also a device produced by the individual’s language faculty or Language Acquisition Device performing its direct function in the particular environment of an English speaking community. The direct biological function of obtaining a language is performed by creating mental devices which are adjusted to the needs of the community of people speaking that language. Therefore mental “now” in a person’s mental dictionary and all the mental linguistic devices of English or of any other language have biological derived proper functions. (Origgi, Gloria, Sperber, & Dan, 2000)
Therefore with the help of derived functions, we can explain linguistic devices as having both a biological and cultural past. A linguistic device in the mind of a person has a biological history because it is the product of a biologically evolved language faculty that performs its function by producing such devices which caters to the linguistic abilities of a community of people. The same linguistic device also has a cultural history; it has been replicated in the mind of an individual, as a historical product of it being used by people as a specific linguistic function. (Origgi, Gloria, Sperber, & Dan, 2000)
Language is not a uniform system in which everyone talks just like everyone else. Linguistic performance (what people say) is the concern of sociolinguists. The field of sociolinguists investigates relationships between social and linguistic variation and language in social context. How do different speakers use a given language? How do linguistic features correlate with social stratification, class, ethnic, and gender differences. (Romaine, 1994)
Sociolinguists don’t deny that the people who speak a given language, share knowledge of its basic rules. Such common knowledge is the basis of the mutually intelligible communication. (Romaine, 1994)
Variation within a language at a given time is historical change in progress. Linguistic change doesn’t occur in a vacuum but in society. When new ways of speaking are associated with social factors, they are imitated and they spread. Language changes in this way. (Romaine, 1994)
As an illustration of the linguistic variation that is encountered in all nations, let us consider the contemporary United States. Ethnic Diversity is revealed by the fact that millions of Americans learn first languages other than English. Spanish is most common. Most of these people become bilinguals, adding English as a second language. In many multilingual (including colonized nations) people use two languages on different occasions: one in the home for example, and the other on the job or in the public. (Kangas, 2002)
Whether bilingual or not, we all vary our speech in different contexts; we engage in style shifts. In certain parts of Europe, people regularly switch dialects. This phenomenon, known as diglossia, applies to “high” and low variants of the same language. People employ the “high” variant at universities and in writing, professions and the mass media. They use the “low” variant for ordinary conversation with family members and friends. (Kangas, 2002)
Just as social situations influence our speech, so do geographical, cultural and socioeconomic differences. Many dialects exist in the United States with Standard (American) English (SE). SE is a dialect that differs from “BBC English” which is the preferred dialect in Great Britain. According to the principle of linguistic relativity, all dialects are equally effective as systems of communication, which is language’s main job. Our tendency to think of particular dialects as crude or more sophisticated than others is a social rather than linguistic judgment. We rank certain speech patterns as better or worse because we recognize that they are used by groups that we also rank. People who say “dese,” “dem” and “dere” communicate perfectly well with anyone who recognizes that the d sound systematically replaces the “th” sound in their speech. However, this form of speech has become an indicator of low social rank. We call it like the use of “ain’t,” uneducated speech. (Kangas, 2002)
Gender Speech Contrasts
Comparing men and women, there are differences in phonology, grammar and vocabulary as well as in the body stances and movements that accompany speech. In phonology, American women tend to pronounce their vowels more peripherally, (“rant”, “rint”), whereas men tend to pronounce theirs more centrally (“runt”– in all cases when saying the word “rent”). In public contexts, Japanese women tend to adopt an artificially high voice for sake of politeness, according to their traditional culture. In North America and Great Britain, women’s speech tends to be more similar to the standard dialect than men’s. In all social classes, but particularly in the working class, men were more apt to use double negatives (e.g., “I don’t want none”). Women tend to be more careful about “uneducated speech.” This trend shows up in both the United States and England. Men may adopt working-class’s speech because they associate it with masculinity. Perhaps women pay more attention to the media, where standard dialects are employed. (Yaeger-Dror, 1998)
According to Robin Lakoff, (1975), the use of certain types of words and expressions has been associated with women’s traditional lesser power in society. For example, Oh dear, Oi fudge and Goodness! are less forceful than Hell and Damn. Men’s customary use of “forceful” words reflects their traditional public power and presence. Women are likely to use adjectives such as adorable, charming, sweet, cute, lovely and divine than men are. (Yaeger-Dror, 1998)
Men typically use more words related to sports, make more distinctions among them (e.g. runs versus points) and try to use the terms more precisely than women do. Correspondingly, influenced more by the fashion and cosmetics industries than men are, women use more color terms and attempt to use them more specifically than men do. For example, if a purple shirt is showed in a class and men and women are asked to tell what color it is? Women rarely show uniformity as they try to distinguish the actual shade (mauve, lavender, wisteria or some other purplish hue). However, men collectively answer as one, “purple.” Rare is the man who on the spur of the moment can imagine the difference between fuchsia and magenta. (Liberman, 2010)
Japanese Case Study
According to a Tokyo Journal, gender differences in speech may show up in grammar, vocabulary, phonology or intonation, and they may be accentuated by style shifting in certain social contexts. Japanese women tend to adopt a very high pitched voice when speaking in public. However this linguistic standard of politeness is fading today; as a result of familiarity with gender roles in other cultures and exposure to the mass media (where female announcers now use lower voices)
There was this case study of a woman in Japan named Hiromi Saito whose feminine voice laced with sugar syrup was observed at a shopping mall.
Hiromi Saito smiled indulgently at some shoppers in a shopping mall and opened her mouth to rant.
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart for favoring us by paying an honorable visit to our store,” she said in The Voice. “I will stop at the floor your honorable self is kind enough to use, and then I will go to the top floor.”
The Voice is so sweet that the saccharine stickiness can almost make someone puke, and as high, as the pitch of a dog’s whistle.
Japanese women tend to speak above the natural pitch of their voices. They especially do this in formal settings. However, women’s voices in Japan are dropping considerably. A growing number of women have started speaking in their natural voices.
A notable person of the changing times is Miyuki Morita, who was rejected when she first tried to enter broadcasting as a disk jockey. The people thought that her voice was too serious and melancholy. She eventually found a job with a television station in northern Japan where and she tried to imitate other female journalists who spoke in high voices.
Later, she saw a video of herself, and heard her voice, she realized that it didn’t sound too convincing. She felt something was amiss in herself. Hence, she decided to settle back to her old voice.
Her voice is one of the most popular voices in Japan, since Ms Morita is currently the evening commentator of the most popular television news program in the country. (Kristoff, 1995)
Sociolinguists study contemporary variation in speech- language change in progress. Historical linguists deal with longer-term change. Historical linguists reconstruct many features of past language by studying contemporary daughter languages. These are languages that descend from the same parent language and that have been changing separately for hundreds or even thousands of years. We call the original language from which they diverge, the protolanguage. Romance language, such as French and Spanish, for example are daughter languages of Latin, their common protolanguage. German, English, Dutch and the Scandinavian languages are daughter languages of proto-Germanic. (Campbell, 2004)
Languages changes over time. It evolves, varies, spreads, and divides into sub-groups (language within taxonomy of related languages that are most closely related). Dialects of a single parent language become distinct daughter languages, especially if they are isolated from one another. Some of them split, and new “grand daughter languages develop. If people remain in the ancestral homeland, their speech patterns also change. The evolving speech in the ancestral homeland should be considered a daughter language like others. (Campbell, 2004)
A close relationship between languages does not mean that their speakers are closely related biologically or culturally, because people can adopt new languages. Immigrants to the United States spoke many different languages on arrival, but their descendants now speak fluent English. (Campbell, 2004)
Knowledge of linguistic relationships is often valuable to anthropologists interested in history particularly events during the past 5000 years. Cultural features may (or may not) correlate with the distribution of language families. Groups that speak related languages may (or may not) be more culturally similar to each other than they are to groups whose speech derives from different linguistic ancestors. Of course, cultural similarities aren’t limited to speakers of related languages. Even groups whose members speak unrelated languages have contact through trade, intermarriage and warfare. Ideas and inventions diffuse widely among human groups. Many items of vocabulary in contemporary English come from French. Even without written documentation of France’s influence after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, linguistic evidence in contemporary English would reveal a long period of important firsthand contact with France. Similarly linguistic evidence may confirm cultural contact and borrowing what written history is lacking. By considering which words have been borrowed, we can also make inferences about the nature of the contact. (Campbell, 2004)
In this research paper, the evolution of cultural communication of language has been examined thoroughly, in context to English Language. This research paper has addressed a very fundamental question: Is language obtained biologically or acquired as a result of social enculturation? However, it has been taken along relative lines in this research paper so as to explain the process of acquiring language from two highly debatable perspectives. Language uniformity and gender speech contrasts have also been examined and a case study has been provided in order to get a better insight on the matter. It will prove beneficial for those who want to gain knowledge on the evolution of language and cultural communication.
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