Blog Rating

Selected Books by Edmund Blair Bolles

  • Galileo's Commandment: 2500 Years of Great Science Writing
  • The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age
  • Einstein Defiant: Genius vs Genius in the Quantum Revolution

« Questions For A Theory | Main | A Biological Revolution »



Regarding the creation of new words: I would expect word *creation* was frequent, but word *acceptance* far less so. That is, there's no possible adaptive penalty for coining a new word (as there might be for a mutating a gene), and some possible adaptive benefit for doing so. Therefore, I'd expect early languages to have had a small vocabulary of accepted words surrounded by a huge cloud of competing novel words. The competition, however, would resolve slowly because such words would have been used with lower frequencies, causing head-on collisions between different terms to be rare.

Indeed, it may well have been that early cultures needed to establish mores for establishing vocabulary standards. Modern cultures have clear systems for dealing with novel words, but those systems didn't just appear out of thin air. I would expect that there would have been lots of terminological confusion and conflict among groups over vocabulary -- slowing down the process of vocabulary expansion.

But there's so little evidence from which to work that our speculations regarding these processes are just as handicapped -- for similar reasons -- as the early efforts at vocabulary expansion.


The sociolinguistic processes that drive language change, including the change from prelinguistic communication, are well-described. The processes include non-linguistic communication of past and future events, lexicalization creating words, and conventionalization of word orders/inflections increasing grammatical range. What reason is there to assume these same processes did not apply to early homo?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Bookmark and Share

Your email address:

Powered by FeedBlitz

Visitor Data

Blog powered by Typepad