Re: [xmca] Reference for ontological and phylogenetic languagecomparison

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Thu Jan 11 2007 - 20:03:08 PST

Try Gilbert Gottlieb: Development and Evolution. Very much to the point
despite little attention to the co-evolution of phylogeny and cultural
history on the hominid line.

On 1/11/07, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
> I wonder just how people are interpreting 'recapitulation' here? You
> can't usefully think about development and evolution separately. What
> evolves is the typical developmental trajectory of the members of
> some species. At any given phylogenetic time, there is some
> similarity in the development of all members of the species, with
> individual variations around a common and typical normal ontogenetic
> trajectory. Across phylogenetic timescales, that typical trajectory
> itself changes.
> But the later stages of the trajectory are more likely to change than
> the earlier ones, because the very possibility of the organism making
> it to some stage where it might do things differently depends
> critically on its having followed a path up to that point that was
> "pioneered" by its ancestors, who found successful ways to stay alive
> up to that stage. You can think of this as our dragging our
> phylogenetic baggage around with us, or as our building on the
> achievements of our ancestors. But their biggest achievement was to
> figure out how to get from an egg through an embryo to a newborn, and
> any changes that mess with their traditional formula for success is
> likely to lead to a very dead end. That leaves the successful changes
> to operate mainly on the later end of the trajectory, with the
> earliest bits being, by default, recapitulative.
> In the case of language, we don't really know much about what bits
> are early vs. late phylogenetically. We just have what we see
> ontogeneticallly in language development. So we can be pretty sure
> that the capacity to learn and use language at all is at the early
> end. Maybe some parts of the Chomskyan argument are correct (and I
> don't buy a lot of those arguments) that certain core features of
> grammar, shared by all languages (or at least shared by them from our
> point of view ... remember that a lot of the world's original
> languages must have been totally lost a very long time ago) are also
> early enough that all future languages have to build on them. My
> guess is that there may be some such features, but that current
> theories on these matters posit way too many of them.
> If you look at child language development, you can make a case like
> Halliday does in _Learning how to mean_ for how grammar itself
> emerges from two-sign utterances (can be two words, can also be a
> word and a gesture, or a word and an intonation). Some such principle
> as he identifies for a language to have a grammar (i.e. something
> more complex than a one-to-one sign-to-meaning correspondence) may
> also be phylogenetically early enough to be necessary for all later
> language development. Does the capacity for it rest on some genetic
> mutation? some increase in brain complexity? very hard to say when
> all those brains are gone to dust.
> All this however is still very individualistic. And language for the
> most part is not, it is a social phenomenon that we may internalize
> for some private purposes. So it may be the evolution of social
> complexity, rather than genetic mutation per se, that made more
> advanced language (i.e. with grammar rather than protolanguage with
> it) have enough value-added to get added onto the growing end of the
> developmental trajectory. In which case, there are mutual advantages
> in a community to helping other people (and growing infants) learn
> your way of talking, and to using those ways of talking, etc.
> And here we can make the football analogy. What is important is that
> the game get played. To get played it needs players with learned
> skills, or evolved-and-learned skills. The players have developmental
> trajectories on the biographical timescale. And the game itself, as a
> dynamic unfolding process, has a developmental trajectory (start to
> finish) and a phylogenetic one (typical game-play styles evolve on
> the historical timescale, in football, or chess). The analogy would
> say that opening gambits tend to be conserved over time, and games
> individuate more, and playstyles change more, with respect to later
> moves in the game. Is that true?
> At the individual player level, we could look at player training.
> There would be a typical newbie-to-pro trajectory, which might change
> over historical time (new ideas in coaching players), but the basics
> that come early in training would stay the same. Do they? And all
> players would tend to play more or less the same way when they start
> playing the game, and only individualize their play style later in
> their years of playing. Do they? Note that we have to talk here about
> usual and typical cases, not exceptions.
> Exceptions, of course, like mutations or innovations, may get
> conserved and reproduced, or not. One factor in whether they do
> continue may be how they fit into the constraints of successful
> overall trajectories (both for player careers and for gameplay).
> JAY.
> At 10:36 AM 1/11/2007, you wrote:
> >What a nice, useful analogy Michael.
> >
> >I'm thinking about how to make it more precisely parallel. The
> (ontogenic)
> >development of language ability in the child could be compared with the
> >(phylogenic) development of a player's football skills (I'm thinking
> >basketball might work better, since -- at least in US "gridiron" football
> --
> >most players on the field have specialized roles not requiring as great a
> >range of versatile skills as in basketball [IMHO: a defensive left guard
> >might think otherwise]). So, the development of a [basketball] player's
> >skills would not recapitulate the development of the game itself. Skills
> >that might have had value in the game as it was played in the early
> history
> >of the game might have no value for players today, and would not be part
> of
> >a developmental stage that today's players go through on their way to
> >development of skills they use today.
> >
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: [] On
> >Behalf Of Wolff-Michael Roth
> >Sent: Thursday, January 11, 2007 10:22 AM
> >To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> >Cc:
> >Subject: Re: [xmca] Reference for ontological and phylogenetic
> >languagecomparison
> >
> >A CHAT perspective built on the dialectic of individual and
> >collective, the person realizes cultural possibilities available to
> >any one else. From this perspective, children grow up in a different
> >material context, hearing different utterances in the context of
> >different situation. This would lead to the contention that ontogeny
> >does not recapitulate phylogeny, much in the same way that a present
> >day football game would not recapitulate the first football game ever
> >played or its precursor. (The referent of "football" can be taken the
> >British or American way).
> >Michael
> >
> >On 11-Jan-07, at 6:46 AM, wrote:
> >
> >
> >Dan I. Slobin has an article, "From Ontogenesis to phylogenesis: what
> >can
> >child language tell us about language evolution?" that appears in IN
> >the
> >j. Langer, S.T. Parker edited volume, "BIology and Knowledge.
> >
> >The questions he poses in the article are: Does linguistic ontogeny
> >recapitulate phylogeny?, Does linguistic diachrony recapitulate
> >ontogony?
> >OD children create grammatical forms?
> >
> >good read but not a CHAT perspective but rather biologicaly based.
> >
> >eric
> >
> >
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> >
> >
> >_______________________________________________
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> >
> >
> >_______________________________________________
> >xmca mailing list
> >
> >
> Jay Lemke
> Professor
> University of Michigan
> School of Education
> 610 East University
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Tel. 734-763-9276
> Email.
> Website. <>
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