Article

Inferring modern language from ancient objects

Rudolf Botha

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199541119.013.0030

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Inferring modern language from ancient objects

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This article focuses on the inference that the Middle Stone Age (MSA) inhabitants of Blombos Cave had fully syntactic language. The Blombos inference is seen to use three consecutive inferential steps as, from data about a number of material objects, it draws a conclusion about a facet of language evolution. One of the steps inferred that the shells were beads worn by the humans who inhabited Blombos Cave some 75 kya. It was inferred from data and/or assumptions about properties of a number of MSA tick shells. The data and/or assumptions are about properties of forty-one shells of the scavenging gastropod Nassarius kraussianus. These properties of the shells include their age, their man-made perforations, their flattened facets, and their distribution in groups in the cave. Another step inferred that the humans were engaged in symbolic behavior, which was from data and/or assumptions about the beads. Another step inferred that the humans had fully syntactic language. It was inferred from data and/or assumptions about the symbolic behavior. The symbols-to-syntax inference needs to meet a number of fundamental conditions, including the one that is the warrantedness condition, which states that the inferential step leading to some conclusion about language evolution needs to be suitably warranted or licensed.

Keywords: warrantedness condition; Nassarius kraussianus; Blombos cave; language evolution; Middle Stone Age

Article.  3371 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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