Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 169–189 | Cite as

From icons to symbols: Some speculations on the origins of language

  • Robert N. Brandon
  • Norbert Hornstein
Article
  • 112 Downloads

Abstract

This paper is divided into three sections. In the first section we offer a retooling of some traditional concepts, namely icons and symbols, which allows us to describe an evolutionary continuum of communication systems. The second section consists of an argument from theoretical biology. In it we explore the advantages and disadvantages of phenotypic plasticity. We argue that a range of the conditions that selectively favor phenotypic plasticity also favor a nongenetic transmission system that would allow for the inheritance of acquired characters. The first two sections are independent, the third depends on both of them. In it we offer an argument that human natural languages have just the features required of an ideal transmission mechanism under the conditions described in section 2.

Key words

Phylogenetic icons heritability phenotypic plasticity phenotypic transmission symbolic language 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Bonner, J. T.: 1980, The Evolution of Culture in Animals, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  2. Boyd, R. & Richerson, P. J.: 1985, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  3. Bradshaw, A. D.: 1965, ‘Evolutionary Significance of Phenotypic Plasticity in Plants’, Advanced Genetics 13, 115–55.Google Scholar
  4. Brandon, R. N.: 1978, ‘Adaptation and Evolutionary Theory’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 9, 181–206.Google Scholar
  5. Brandon, R. N.: 1981a, ‘Biological Teleology: Questions and Explanations’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 12, 91–105.Google Scholar
  6. Brandon, R. N.: 1981b, ‘A Structural Description of Evolutionary Theory’, in Asquith, P. and Giere, R. (eds.), PSA 1980, Philosophy of Science Association, East Lansing, Michigan Vol. II.Google Scholar
  7. Brandon, R. N.: (forthcoming), ‘Directional Biases in Inheritance: the insufficience of Darwin's three conditions’.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, R.: 1973, A First Language: The Early Stages, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  9. Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. and Feldman, M. W.: 1981,A Theory of Cultural Evolution: Cultural Transmission, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  10. Chomsky, N.: 1965, Aspects of Theory of Syntax, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  11. Chomsky, N.: 1972, Language and Mind, Enlarged Edition, Hartcourt Bruce Jovanovich, Inc., New York, N.Y.Google Scholar
  12. Davidson, D.: 1965, ‘Theories of Meaning and Learnable Languages’, in Y. Bar-Hillel (ed.), Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, Proceeding of the 1964 International Congress, North-Holland, Amsterdam, pp. 383–94.Google Scholar
  13. Davidson, D.: 1967, ‘Truth and Meaning’, Synthese 17, 304–23.Google Scholar
  14. Goodman, N.: 1968, Languages of Art, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, Indiana.Google Scholar
  15. Goodman, N.: 1970, ‘Seven Structures on Similarity’, in Foster, L. and Swanson, J. W. (eds.), Experience and Theory, University of Massachusetts Press, Boston, Mass.Google Scholar
  16. Griffin, D. R.: 1976, The Question of Animal Awareness, Rockefeller University Press, New York, N.Y.Google Scholar
  17. Hornstein, N. & Lightfoot, D.: 1981, Explanation in Linguistics, Longmans and Co., London.Google Scholar
  18. Levins, R.: 1968, Evolution in Changing Environments, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J.Google Scholar
  19. Lewontin, R. C.: 1978, ‘Adaptation’, Scientific American 239, 212–30.Google Scholar
  20. Lorenz, K.: 1977, Behind the Mirror: A Search for a Natural History of Human Knowledge, Methuen, London.Google Scholar
  21. Mayr, E.: 1976, Evolution and the Diversity of Life, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  22. Pulliam, H. R. and Dunford, C.: 1980, Programmed to Learn, Columbia University Press, New York, N.Y.Google Scholar
  23. Quine, W. V.: 1960, Word and Object, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  24. Roughgarden, J.: 1979, Theory of Population Genetics and Evolutionary Ecology: An Introduction, MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, N.Y.Google Scholar
  25. Smith, W. J.: 1977, The Behavior of Communicating, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  26. Wilson, E. O.: 1975, Sociobiology: the New Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.Google Scholar
  27. Wimsatt, W.: 1968, ‘Randomness and Perceived-Randomness in Evolutionary Biology’, Synthese 43, 287–329.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert N. Brandon
    • 1
  • Norbert Hornstein
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDuke UniversityDurhamU.S.A.
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsThe University of MarylandCollege Park

Personalised recommendations