Language Origins: was [Marxism] Darwin/Marx

Paul H. Dillon illonph at
Tue May 4 16:10:06 MDT 2004

  To me it is surprising that people on this list talk  as though language
were somehow independent of the human activity systems in which it occurs.
As though it could be pointed to at a point in time of which one could say,
"Hey look, language started then."   Marxist theorists about language and
the mind  (e.g., Volosinov, Mikhailov, Vygotsky),  provide the framework in
which there isn't necessarily a single lineage (as though language were some
kind of biological species), and a different way to conceptualize the very
notion of language.   It is only within a view in which the evolution of
language is integrally conceptualized within the framework of the evolution
of human tool use/transmission, on one hand, and the human practices of
symbolic production for its own sake, on the other, that some reasonable
explanation might be given about the origins of language.  But the two
domains of symbolic action didn't necessarily come out of the same sources.
The seed of symbolic language is already present in the stone tool that is
produced for a mediated use, but chimps are know to celebrate sponataneous
rituuals involving vocalizations.   Like money, whose multiple functions
occur independently in earlier forms (e.g., one type of money as a store of
value that nevertheless can't be exchanged, etc., perhaps only destroyed or
given away).  If we begin to enumerate sociolinguistically  the different
"functions" of language as we know it today, we will find that they didn't
emerge  at the same time, might have occurred partially, or conjointly as
socially independent phenomena, etc.   The dangers of the biological
metaphor for social process is everywhere.


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