Same Old

We now know ( from ancient DNA) that Bushmen split off from the rest of humanity (or we from them) at least a quarter of a million years ago. Generally, when you see a complex trait in sister groups, you can conclude that it existed in the common ancestor. Since both Bushmen and (everybody else) have complex language, one can conclude that complex language existed at least a quarter million years ago, in our common ancestor. You should also suspect that unique features of Bushmen language, namely those clicks, are not necessarily superficial: there has been time enough for real, baked-in, biologically rooted language differences to evolve. It also shows that having complex language isn’t enough, in itself, to generate anything very interesting. Cf Williams syndrome. Certainly technological change was very slow back then. Interglacial periods came and went without AMH displacing archaics in Eurasia or developing agriculture.

Next, the ability to generate rapid cultural change, invent lots of stuff, improvise effective bullshit didn’t exist in the common ancestor of extant humanity, since change was very slow back then.

Therefore it is not necessarily the case that every group has it today, or has it to the same extent. Psychic unity of mankind is unlikely. It’s also denied by every measurement ever made, but I guess invoking data, or your lying eyes, would be cheating.

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56 Responses to Same Old

  1. reiner Tor says:

    Psychic unity of mankind is unlikely.

    It’s unlikely, yet it is true. Science! has proven that racism is evil and also dumb, therefore all humans are the same, except anti-racists and People of Color are smarter than dumb white rednecks.

  2. MawBTS says:

    It also shows that having complex language isn’t enough, in itself, to generate anything very interesting.

    I’m not a linguist but it seems to me that primitive cultures often come up with morphologically complex languages. Some of the Khoi-san click tongues have something like 100 consonants. The Bora language in Peru has over 350 distinct genders.

    I wonder how artificial languages created by high IQ societies (Esperanto?) compare in syntactic complexity.

  3. So some other trait or traits, probably having to do with personality or gene/culture interaction?

  4. Cpluskx says:

    Quarter of a million years. Long enough to unlock hybrid vigor?

    • Candide III says:

      Won’t happen because the populations in question are not anywhere sufficiently inbred.

    • RCB says:

      Insofar as some recessive genetic diseases are much more common among Bushmen than everyone else, or vice versa, then hybrids of the two populations would be protected against them. That’s surely a form of hybrid vigor, though probably not a big one. Otherwise, agreed with Candide III that the large racial groups are already sufficiently outbred to render any hybrid vigor negligible. As Greg has pointed out, more important are the big between-group differences in trait means. Sure, breeding with a Bushman all but guarantees that your kid won’t have Cystic Fibrosis… but at the cost of many IQ points.

    • Lol, if it existed there was a lot of articles pointing it.

  5. TWS says:

    Some west coast native languages have elaborate and explicit classifiers that I doubt anyone uses anyone. Using an entirely different reply to a guy who is left handed isn’t too odd or to a female child or an elderly male. But changing things up because a guy has only one eye, limps, throws a harpoon, or shot the biggest elk last summer can get complicated.

    I don’t even know what standard they agreed to teach kids. But that won’t really matter because the others will be lost.

  6. Greying Wanderer says:

    you need iodine for metabolism – if you needed a higher metabolism to keep warm in colder regions would you need more iodine (or more efficient iodine usage)?

  7. Jim says:

    I’ve always believed that language must have existed for a long time. It’s incredibly complex (just the enunciation of human language is the most complex neuromuscular process in all of biology) but almost no one has any trouble learning their native language. Only the profoundly retarded fail to develop any linguistic ability at all. It’s evolutionary development must have required a very long time.

    • DRA says:

      Language & Species, by Derek Bickerton, Professor if linguistics at the University, has some interesting concepts. The bood was Published in 1990, and My reading regarding linguistics is limited, but his speculations seemed interesting.

      Briefly, he argued that the simplified language abilities of persons with brain damage, who have had to relearn to communicate, or pidgin languages developed among adults with no common language, might reflect a more primitive strata of language ability.

      I imagined that perhaps he might have had in mind the language abilities of Homo Erectus, or earlier ancestors.

      • TWS says:

        What would be the immediate benefit of such a big investment? Lots of energy going to a specialized ability. The payoff had to be pretty solid.

        • Hallie Scott Kline says:

          The payoff was recruitment. Some sound that meant “Hurry! Follow me; dying mammoth this way! That’s the theory Bickerton proposes in his later book, Adam’s Tongue. He compares it to the way small ants tell each other of a food source. Bickerton envisions early hominids on scouting missions; whenever they encountered dying megafauna, they were likely to be miles away from their hominid clan. Additional manpower was needed to ward off saber-tooth cats and other scavengers. The hominid scouts, returning to camp, had to convey to others the significance and urgency of the find. They needed a word or symbol that would convince their fellows to drop everything; they had to persuade all the others to follow them to the distant site. There they could use strength in numbers to repel various competing scavengers.

          • TWS says:

            Hijacking is just as important as hunting. Being able to be specific as to the size of the kill/carcass doesn’t require too many words but probably more than the chimps have. Homo erectus was around 150k ago. Did they have language.

  8. Jim says:

    Yes, it’s not likely that the extensive use of clicks in the Khoisan languages versus their almost total absence elsewhere is just a random accident.

    • Jmo8 says:

      The Hadza and Sandawe languages have clicks (I am not aware of an especially strong genetic affinity of those tribes to Khoisans compared to most non-Khoisan African groups gernerally—i.e. everybody else—(I think it’s more the reverse—much of their ancestry likely diverged later). Dahalo (a Cushitic language whose residual click may survive from an older local pre-Cushitic multi-click language or family) is the African (spoken by Cushiticized hunter-gatherers). There is at least one language (Damin) in Australia with clicks.

      • Jim says:

        Yes clicks have been noted in a few non-Khoisan languages but they are extremely except in the Khoisan languages where they are very common.

        • Jim says:

          I meant to say “extremely rare”

          • Jmo8 says:

            Hadza is not classed as Khoisan but an isolate (Sandawe’s relationship is debated). Dahalo would perhaps be influenced by some unknown long lost native family. Any common root of those two languages and the Khoisan ones could be extremely remote, and maybe not necessarily closer than Khoisan and other language families of Africa (perhaps clicks could be a feature once more common in older human languages, later lost in most). Also all of the Khoisan languages have clicks (and a quite a few of the Bantu languages in Southern Africa, have some as well from Khoisan influence).



            “Clicks occur in all three Khoisan language families of southern Africa, where they may be the most numerous consonants. To a lesser extent they occur in three neighbouring groups of Bantu languages—which borrowed them, directly or indirectly, from Khoisan. In the southeast, in eastern South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique, they were adopted from a Tuu language or languages by the languages of the Nguni cluster (especially Zulu, Xhosa and Phuthi, but also to a lesser extent Swazi and Ndebele), and spread from them in a reduced fashion to the Zulu-based pidgin Fanagalo, Sesotho, Tsonga, Ronga, the Mzimba dialect of Tumbuka and more recently to Ndau and urban varieties of Pedi, where the spread of clicks continues. The second point of transfer was near the Caprivi Strip and the Okavango River where, apparently, the Yeyi language borrowed the clicks from a West Kalahari Khoe language; a separate development led to a smaller click inventory in the neighbouring Mbukushu, Kwangali, Gciriku, Kuhane and Fwe languages in Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia.[1] These sounds occur not only in borrowed vocabulary, but have spread to native Bantu words as well, in the case of Nguni at least partially due to a type of word taboo called hlonipha. Some creolised varieties of Afrikaans, such as Oorlams, retain clicks in Khoekhoe words.”

        • G P says:

          The major African languages of Southern Africa (such as Zulu) all have multiple click sounds that occur frequently and tend to be delivered with emphasis. The word ‘Xhosa’ (the name of Nelson Mandela’s tribe and language) begins with a kind of catapult-and-ricochet of the tongue.

          • gcochran9 says:

            The Xhosa have about 25% Bushman ancestry, probably almost all female.

            • G P says:

              Makes sense. If you think of the map of the Cape of Good Hope, you could color the West Coast (Namibia down to the Western Cape) yellow for the Bushmen; the Eastern Cape brown for the Xhosa; and the East Coast (Natal up to Mozambique) purple for the Zulu, Swazi, Shangaan, etc.
              If you arranged visual representations of the corresponding phenotype from left to right, they would blend quite smoothly.

    • marobane says:

      Well, yes and no – studies of twin languages (private languages developed between twins) often contain click phonemes. It’s just that over time, language simplifies phonetically. The Khoe languages have the highest number of phonemes, and as you follow the pattern of human species expansion, the number of phonemes falls. In South America, most languages have only two or three vowel sounds, and often only a dozen or so consonents. Khoe language complexity is insane, they will often have multiple suprasegmental features like pitch, stress and length, extremely complex grammar, etc. It’s hard to say why language simplifies with travel, but it happens to be the case.

  9. swampr says:

    What are the latest DNA informed views of Hadza origins? A Tanzanian group with click consonants but unrelated to bushmen.

  10. RCB says:

    “You should also suspect that unique features of Bushmen language, namely those clicks, are not necessarily superficial: there has been time enough for real, baked-in, biologically rooted language differences to evolve.”

    I’m wondering what this might look like. On the extreme, do toddlers tend to start clicking naturally, even without adult models? Or are they simply better at hearing and distinguishing clicks than other populations, given that they do hear it as children? Might they be anatomically better formed to produce the clicks? Any of the above?

    • reinertor says:

      I guess some or all of the things you wrote.

      I always thought East/Southeast Asians might have some genetic predisposition to tonal languages. Though some of their languages are non-tonal, like Japanese.

      • Jim says:

        Tonal languages aren’t all that uncommon. The Nadene languages are tonal. Tonal languages are common in Sub-Saharan Africa. Because the Sumerian language has so many apparent homonyms it has been suspected of being a tonal language. The number of known phonemes is Sumerian is small and the roots are generally 1-3 phonemes so the result is a lot of homonyms or apparent homonyms. It’s quite possible that Sumerian had tonal distinctions.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Anatomically better formed, at minimum.

      “it has been observed by several researchers that the Khoisan palate ends to lack a prominent alveolar ridge.”

  11. Dave Pinsen says:

    A John Darnton novel in the ’90s (Neanderthal) posited that the ability to bullshit is how AMH defeated Neanderthals.

  12. TWS says:

    If we could speak complex languages 250k years ago what are we talking about? A thousand words ten thousand? Mangani style from Tarzan?

    • BB753 says:

      More like ten thousand words or roots (“lexemes”). 5 thousands (“lexemes”) are necessary for any kind of meaningful communication, accounting for everyday items and plants and animals. Still, linguist Morris Swadesh came up with a shorter number. I’ll look it up.

  13. I would think it is easier to lose clicks than add them in one’s language, further suggesting they are not a recent addition. In contact between peoples, especially conquest, those aren’t the parts adults would learn. Just letting my imagination run, those sounds must carry pretty well, thus useful for communication at a distance, or at night. They might even be more ancient, starting as warning sounds of various types, held over into making words.

    • TWS says:

      If those are the older parts then it makes sense. Wolves communicate well enough to hunt and warn of danger. In my mind that’s what set us above the other various species of human. Cooperative hunting.

  14. Jesse M. says:

    “We now know ( from ancient DNA) that Bushmen split off from the rest of humanity (or we from them) at least a quarter of a million years ago.”

    Where do you get that figure from? According to it was only about 100,000 years ago.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Ancient genomes from southern Africa pushes modern human divergence beyond 260,000 years ago

      “Using traditional and new approaches, we estimate the population divergence time between the Ballito Bay boy and other groups to beyond 260,000 years ago. ”

      Current Bushmen all have some Bantu admixture: 2000 years ago, they didn’t. So the genome sequence of a boy from Ballito Bay who lived ~2000 years ago was informative.

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  17. brokenyogi says:

    Just discovered your blog and found this post interesting.

    “Since both Bushmen and (everybody else) have complex language, one can conclude that complex language existed at least a quarter million years ago, in our common ancestor. ”

    I think you’re missing the point of this evolutionary split-off. The DNA shows that the first modern humans were the Bushman living in southern Africa, and not, as previously thought, the people living in East Africa at the time of this “split-off”. So all modern humans descended from this south African bushmen, including the people who are now known as Bushmen. These ancient bushmen were cut off from the other human species for as long as 100,000 years, before they began migrating into other parts of Africa, including east Africa, where eventually a kind of transformation took place some 60-75k years ago. Higher intelligence and language evolved within this group in a fairly short period of time. How that happened is not clear, but suddenly these people began doing all sorts of things never seen before. Creative things. Technologies and hunting abilities. These people then spread out throughout Africa and the world, replacing or interbreeding with other groups, both homo sapiens (such as the Bushmen of southern Africa) and some Neaderthals and Denisovians, etc.

    In other words, we don’t know if the early Bushmen had complex language. The fact that all humans have such abilities doesn’t tell us our ancient ancestors did. It may well be that complex language didn’t evolve until this great burst of creativity 60-75k years ago. There was almost certainly some forms of language stretching back to the early Bushmen, but we don’t know how complex it was. But all this is still open to question, so I’d like to hear what you think of the whole enterprise.

    • gcochran9 says:

      “The DNA shows” = no it doesn’t. You have it all wrong.

      What we know is that Bushmen split off from the rest of humanity at least a quarter of a million years ago. We don’t know if the common ancestor of Bushmen and other populations looked like modern Bushmen, or Eskimos, or Jimmy Durante. We have some older skeletons that maybe are anatomically modern humans, but they’re in North Africa.

      If sister groups both have some complex rait the general assumption is that the ancestral population had it too.

      • brokenyogi says:

        by “rest of humanity”, what are you referring to? Other homo species, or other homo sapiens? I’m interested in learning the real development of homo sapiens, and where and how that led to the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens, meaning us. There may be recent finds of specimens that have some resemblance to homo sapiens in other places, but unless those lines led to us, they are irrelevant. From what I’ve gathered, recent thinking is that it was the SA populations that developed into homo sapiens, and later spread to EA and other areas, and then out of that population homo sapiens sapiens developed and went through the great creative revolution, starting in EA, and then spreading out to the rest of the world. Now, if you have evidence that this is wrong, I’d love to hear about it. I’d think it might be the basis for a full post up top so others can chime in as well. I do love to argue, but I love to learn even more, so you might be able to show me things I don’t know about yet. If this subject is of interest to you.

        As for speech, there’s no reason to believe that just because the descendents of a group developed complex speech, that their ancestors did also. Weren’t there serious anatomical developments taking place some 65k years ago that made complex speech possible? Changes in palate, tongue and placement of voicebox?

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