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Study Group on "Language and Species"

09.12.2007

The study group on Language and Species attended by twelve people interested in the human language capacity is working its way through the Derek Bickerton book, LANGUAGE AND SPECIES. The aim of the study is to read, understand and discuss all the issues as to how, in evolutionary terms, humans developed "language" and how this, in turn, may resolve some of the issues as to how we, unlike the creatures that share 99% of our genes, have changed our environment so much and have developed what we call "consciousness".

One of the first things we discussed in the Study Group was how the cliche, "Language is a form of communication" prevents us from making any progress as to the antecedents of our language capacity in our ancestors' brains, because language is clearly not a development of their "means of communication". The entire study aims to understand how Derek Bickerton argues that the language capacity is a level of "representational system", and most animals have some sort of "representational system", while those closer to us in evolutionary terms have highly developed "representational systems", though evidently not "language".

So, language is not equal to a "means of communication", nor even principally one. Language is something much vaster, which has as one of its uses that it refines communication in wonderful ways.

The study group aims to give us the tools to understand human language as our naturally inherited capacity. However, most of us attending the group but not all, are also interested in the application of Derek Bickerton's understanding of human language to the arguments in favour of using the mother-tongue in education. Because the suppression in schools of the mother-tongue is not just suppressing the child's means of communication, but suppressing the child's means of understanding, something far, far crueler than many of us ever realized before.

The Study Group, organized by Ledikasyon pu Travayer at its centre in Port Louis, will continue into the first quarter of the new year. In it are a variety of people including teachers, academics in various fields, language activists, a consultant in standards, computer fundis interested in language, and so on.