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Old wives' tales: the gossip hypothesis and the reliability of cheap signals

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... Language would help in this transition to better coordinated action (Bickerton, 2009;Brinck, 2004;Carruthers, 1996, p. 231;Gärdenfors, 2004;Gärdenfors & Warglien, 2006;Nowak and Komarova, 2001;Sterelny, 2006;Snowdon, 2001;Tallerman, 2014, p. 322). Conversely, the prior advent of a new social organization in which trust prevails would have set the conditions for language to evolve as an efficient code (Knight, 1998;2018;Power, 1998;Wacewicz & Żywiczyński, 2018 ...
... Language acts, from this perspective, would be meta-cooperative, as they would serve policing purposes. But meta-cooperation faces the same problems as cooperation itself: why bother helping others by warning them about third-parties' uncooperative actions (Power, 1998), why so willingly, why with so many words, and why so often by commenting on inconsequential acts? ...
... If there had been a selection pressure for evolving it, declarative pointing would have emerged in chimpanzees, at least as an automatic behavior. But it did not, probably because referential communicative acts require some level of trust (Knight, 1998;Power, 1998;Wacewicz & Żywiczyński, 2018) that is absent from the competitive social world of chimpanzees (Hare & Tomasello, 2004). As we can see, the very notion of preadaptation is of little help to explain the emergence of language, even in the embryonic form of declarative pointing. ...
Article
Human beings are talkative. What advantage did their ancestors find in communicating so much? Numerous authors consider this advantage to be “obvious” and “enormous”. If so, the problem of the evolutionary emergence of language amounts to explaining why none of the other primate species evolved anything even remotely similar to language. I propose to reverse the picture. On closer examination, language resembles a losing strategy. Competing for providing other individuals with information, sometimes striving to be heard, makes apparently no sense within a Darwinian framework. At face value, language as we can observe it should never have existed or should have been counter-selected. In other words, the selection pressure that led to language is still missing. The solution I propose consists in regarding language as a social signaling device that developed in a context of generalized insecurity that is unique to our species. By talking, individuals advertise their alertness and their ability to get informed. This hypothesis is shown to be compatible with many characteristics of language that otherwise are left unexplained. https://apcz.umk.pl/czasopisma/index.php/THS/article/view/ths.2020.001
... Thus, the mere fact that language is unique to humans is sufficient to rule out monkey and primate call systems as preadapations for language. But, contra Bickerton, a neo-Darwinian like Jackendoff (2002) appeals to the work of Dunbar (1998), Power (1998, Worden (1998) to provide a selectionist story which assumes that cooperation in hunting, defense (Pinker and Bloom 1990), and " 'social grooming' or deception" are selective forces that operated on human ancestors to drive increases in expressive power that distinguishes non-human communication and human linguistic capacities and systems. Bickerton (2014), however, combines aspects of Essentialism, Emergentism, and Externalism by taking equal parts of Minimalism, primatology, and cultural evolution into a more holistic account. ...
... By retaining close bonds with kin-related females (cf. Power 1998Power , 1999, this volume), each coalition is enabled to extract increasing levels of mating effort from males. The outcome is 'bride service', an arrangement characteristic of huntergatherers, in which in-marrying males bring regular meat or other provisioning under supervision from their in-laws (Knight 1991(Knight , 1999. ...
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Language has no counterpart in the animal world. Unique to Homo sapiens, it appears inseparable from human nature. But how, when and why did it emerge? The contributors to this volume - linguists, anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and others - adopt a modern Darwinian perspective which offers a bold synthesis of the human and natural sciences. As a feature of human social intelligence, language evolution is driven by biologically anomalous levels of social cooperation. Phonetic competence correspondingly reflects social pressures for vocal imitation, learning, and other forms of social transmission. Distinctively human social and cultural strategies gave rise to the complex syntactical structure of speech. This book, presenting language as a remarkable social adaptation, testifies to the growing influence of evolutionary thinking in contemporary linguistics. It will be welcomed by all those interested in human evolution, evolutionary psychology, linguistic anthropology, and general linguistics.
... There is another widely discussed problem with language evolution: language is unreliable (Zahavi, 1993), because there is no natural connection between signifier and signified (Saussure, 1916), and speech is cheap (Maynard Smith, 1994) compared to costly and thus hard-to-fake signals such as the train of a peacock (Zahavi, 1975). Therefore, it needs to be explained why our ancestors began trusting each other's linguistic claims (Power, 1998). Thus, many researchers have said that before language could even begin to evolve, a kind of cooperative principle (Grice, 1975) had to be in place (e.g., Wacewicz anḋ Zywiczyński, 2018;Ferretti et al., 2018). ...
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This paper proposes a social account for the origin of the truth value and the emergence of the first declarative sentence. Such a proposal is based on two assumptions. The first is known as the social intelligence hypothesis: that the cognitive evolution of humans is first and foremost an adaptation to social demands. The second is the function-first approach to explaining the evolution of traits: before a prototype of a new trait develops and the adaptation process begins, something already existing is used for a new purpose. Applied to the emergence of declarative sentences, this suggests something already existing—natural signs (which have a logical or causal relation to what they denote)—were used for the declarative function and thereby integrated (in the form of indexical objects implying a past action) into communication. I show that the display of an indexical object (such as the display of hunting trophies) can imply a conceptual structure similar to that informing the syntax of sentences. The view developed in this paper is broadly consistent with the argumentative theory of Mercier and Sperber, which suggests that reasoning is less adapted to decision making than to social purposes such as winning disputes or justifying one’s actions. In this paper I extend this view to the origin of the concept of truth. According to my proposal, the first declarative sentence (articulated in a simple sign language) emerged as a negation of a negation of an implicit statement expressed by the display of an indexical object referring to a past action. Thereby, I suggest that the binary structure of the truth value underlying any declarative sentence is founded on disagreements based on conflicts of interest. Thus, I deny that the concept of truth could have evolved for instrumental reasons such as solving problems, or through self-questioning about what one ought to believe.
... Modern human language is remarkably flexible and serves a multitude of adaptive functions, but these functions did not emerge in an all-or-none fashion. The proposed accounting for the emergence of open-ended symbolic signals opens the door to revisiting previous proposals and scenarios for the functions of more language-like communication including social grooming (Dunbar 1998), gossip and reputations (Power 1998), group bonding and ritual (Knight 1998), among others. These earlier proposals have been viewed as problematic as they generally assume and presuppose the availability of symbolic signals (Jackendoff 1999, Számadó andSzathmáry 2006). ...
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This paper outlines and defends a specific, sequenced multimodal hypothesis for the adaptive emergence symbolic protolanguage in ancestral hominids arising from the need to teach kin lithic tool traditions of cumulative culture requiring high-fidelity transmission. This paper shows that we can develop an incremental, scalable, and more fundamental evolutionary accounting of the adaptive emergence of symbolic protolanguage, teaching and cumulative culture based on gene-culture coevolutionary theory and the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (ESS), but only if we suppose precursor adaptations in both vocal and gestural modalities in a particular evolutionary sequence. The hypotheses and account proposed here advances solutions to the many classical problems as captured in seven current criteria for theories of language evolution. In addition, I propose an eighth criteria as I show how the proposed account may explain the developmental biases and trajectories of early child language ontology, aspects that are unexplained under prevailing gesture-first theories of language origins. Based on this more fundamental evolutionary accounting, I conclude that explaining the evolution of language, teaching and cumulative culture are inextricably linked and the result of coevolutionary feedback processes involving sequentially dependent adaptations in communication, teaching and cumulative culture and that these unique characters can no longer be approached or understood in scientific isolation.
... For instance, Bickerton (2003) points out that grooming could have been replaced by pleasant but meaningless sounds. Camilla Power (1998) has much more serious concerns -she notices a fundamental incongruence of Dunbar's theory with the demands of honest signalling (see 5.3). Grooming is an honest signal of affiliation precisely because it is time-consuming -the groomer is a reliable ally because he is prepared to pay such a cost. ...
... The problem with social communication, as Camilla Power (1998) shows, is that it is, itself, wide open to cheating. As we saw in Chapter 2, first, there is the sender's dilemma: I know something you don't know, which gives me an advantage over you; why should I give away that information, and thus my advantage, to you? Second is the receiver's dilemma: if the sender has control over the information they give me, why should they give me true information? ...
Book
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The Origins of Self explores the role that selfhood plays in defining human society, and each human individual in that society. It considers the genetic and cultural origins of self, the role that self plays in socialisation and language, and the types of self we generate in our individual journeys to and through adulthood. Edwardes argues that other awareness is a relatively early evolutionary development, present throughout the primate clade and perhaps beyond, but self-awareness is a product of the sharing of social models, something only humans appear to do. The self of which we are aware is not something innate within us, it is a model of our self produced as a response to the models of us offered to us by other people. Edwardes proposes that human construction of selfhood involves seven different types of self. All but one of them are internally generated models, and the only non-model, the actual self, is completely hidden from conscious awareness. We rely on others to tell us about our self, and even to let us know we are a self. Developed in relation to a range of subject areas – linguistics, anthropology, genomics and cognition, as well as socio-cultural theory – The Origins of Self is of particular interest to students and researchers studying the origins of language, human origins in general, and the cognitive differences between human and other animal psychologies.
... GOSSIP, as a form of social information exchange, is core to human social relationships and perhaps even society itself (Barkow, 1992;Dunbar, 1996). It provides human beings with the ability to acquire specific knowledge about people embedded within vast social networks, and enables individuals to strategically manipulate information about them selves or others to produce desired negative or positive reputation outcomes (Hess and Hagen, 2006;Power, 1998). Gossip can also be an effective low-cost aggressive tactic, particularly within the realm of mate competition, when searching for and courting a In contrast, the identity of the individual associated with social information exchange is critical in regard to reputation gossip, because the content relates to a particular person's reputation of interest, meaning the collection of beliefs and opinions generally held about them by others. ...
Chapter
In the evolutionary sciences, gossip is argued to constitute an adaptation that enabled human beings to disseminate information about and to keep track of others within a vast and expansive social network. Although gossip can effectively encourage in-group cooper­ation, it can also be used as a low-cost and covert aggressive tactic to compete with oth­ers for valued resources. In line with evolutionary logic, the totality of evidence to date demonstrates that women prefer to aggress indirectly against their rivals via tactics such as gossip and social exclusion, in comparison to men who use proportionally more direct forms of aggression (e.g., physical aggression). As such, it has been argued that hetero­sexual women may use gossip as their primary weapon of choice to derogate same-sex ri­vals in order to damage their reputation and render them less desirable as mates to the opposite sex. This involves attacking the physical attractiveness and sexual reputation of other women, which correspond to men's evolved mating preferences. Androcentric theo­rizing in the evolutionary sciences has stifled a well-rounded understanding of how women use gossip to compete, with whom, and in what situations.
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Das Forschungsfeld zur Evolution menschlicher Sprachbefähigung zeigt sich als in höchstem Maße multidisziplinär sowie methodisch und theoretisch heterogen. Diese Monografie verfolgt drei für die einschlägige Forschung relevante Ziele. Erstens werden für die Sprachursprungsforschung notwendige fachliche und methodische Grundlagen einführend aufbereitet. Zweitens wird ein Methodenkatalog erarbeitet, welcher sich aus allgemeinen Prinzipien der Wissenschaftstheorie, Qualitätskriterien etablierter (meta)wissenschaftlicher Vorgehensweisen sowie Leitlinien guter Literaturrezeption ableitet, um ein methodisches Instrument zum leistungsfähigen Umgang mit der einschlägigen Literatur vorzulegen. Drittens wird ebenjener Methodenkatalog exemplarisch auf mehrere Bereiche der multidisziplinären Forschung angewandt. Dabei zeigt sich, dass zu innerhalb der Literatur scheinbar unsicheren, da widersprüchlich diskutierten, Positionen und Argumentationslinien durchaus vergleichsweise klare und valide Aussagen gemacht werden können. Dies betrifft sowohl theoretische Konzeptualisierungen als auch empirisch orientierte Interpretationen. Umfasst werden innerhalb der Analyse Disziplinen von der Linguistik über die Paläoanthropologie und die Neurologie bis zur Genetik.
Article
Drawing on convergent work in a broad range of disciplines, this article uses the tipping point paradigm to frame a new account of how early human ancestors may have first broken free from, as Bickerton calls it, the “prison of animal communication.” Under building pressure for an enhanced signaling system capable of supporting joint attentional-intentional activities, a cultural tradition of disambiguated indexical pointing (a finger point disambiguated by a facial expression, vocalization, or other gesture), combined with increasingly sophisticated mindreading circuitry and prosocial tendencies, may have sparked the first in the series of biocultural explosions that led from a simple protolanguage to fully modern human language. This account successfully integrates at least ten other competing hypotheses, and is shown to pass nine important tests that have been proposed for language origin scenarios of its type.
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