ELNG 200

From Hand to Mouth

 Could higher learning, or education in general, be possible without any spoken language as part of our human evolution? Why or why not?

Throughout his essay, Corballis argues that spoken language developed from grunts and vocal cries that were used to accentuate gestural, which developed much sooner and was one of early human’s initial forms of communication. Moreover, he makes the argument that language was natural evolutionary mechanism that developed because it posed a significant advantage over signed language alone. Three main points are used to support this argument: first, spoken language can derive complexity better than signs, which allows individuals to better distinguish between like objects; second, vocal communication is effective in the dark and is therefore better suited for night time communication; and third, verbal messages acted as a complement to early gestures which made it possible to teach abstract concepts more easily. Despite some highlighted drawbacks, such as difficulty to communicate silently, Corballis essentially argues that it is these inherent advantages that made spoken language humans’ primary form of cultural transmission and inheritance.

Fundamentally, Corballis is correct in pointing out that spoken language acts as a complement to signed communication. One advantage he fails to point out is that language is simply a faster means of communication and allows for a greater transfer of information is less time. Sign language is constrained by the number of gestures one can make with their body at any given time, whereas language can create a seemingly infinite number of words to define and communicate any new theory or idea that can be developed. This gives verbal communication a distinct advantage in the rate of knowledge transfer. However, one major drawback he also fails to point out is spoken language’s inability to communicate over great distances or act as a medium of record. From an evolutionary standpoint, signed language was a starting point for the development of drawings that depicted one’s surroundings and eventually written communication. A form of communication with as much, if not more, complexity than spoken language. In a modern context, all three modes of communication – vocal, signed, and written, are complements and incomplete without one another.

The question of weather higher learning is possible without spoken language is one that has already been answered by nature: of coarse it is; evolution demands it. Given enough time, in the absence of spoken language, another form of communication would have developed in its place. There are endless examples of species who have developed sophisticate means of communication without auditory sound. For instance, many animals commutate visually; fish communicate through light or electricity; and insects communicate chemically or though touch. Each is relative to the organism’s lifestyle and is suited to their environment. Without it, they would not have survived.

In a human context, it is obvious that absence of spoken language as the primary means used for high education, another form of communication would have developed in its place. The signing skills of teachers at Gallaudet University are a prime example of this. Founded in 1864, in just over 150 years of existence, the University had developed sign language, which pre-19th century consisted of manual alphabets, to a point where higher education is possible. Corballis suggests that modern languages have been evolving for 170,000 years. Given enough time, other forms of communication equally suited to the purpose of education would have undoubtably arisen.

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