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Kingdom of Speech

Updated on November 9, 2016
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Here's what Wolfe told NPR staff about his book:

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/27/491492977/in-tom-wolfes-kingdom-speech-is-the-one-weird-trick4

"Wolfe tells NPR's Scott Simon that speech is "the attribute of attributes," because it's so unrelated to most other things about animals. "We've all been taught that we evolved from animals, and here is something that is totally absent from animal life," he says."

"There are no traces of any evolution of language through the sounds that apes make, or dolphins, for that matter."

But according to the Linguistic Society of America:

"In asking about the origins of human language, we first have to make clear what the question is. The question is not how languages gradually developed over time into the languages of the world today. Rather, it is how the human species developed over time so that we - and not our closest relatives, the chimpanzees and bonobos - became capable of using language."

http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/faq-how-did-language-begin

Wolfe's lack of understanding evolution is apparent as one reads through that article about his book, but this :

"It is something that is completely new, and the reason for that is, it's an invention, invention by human beings, who are the only creatures who are able to perform this trick. And the trick is, you convert sounds into codes. And the code may be t-r-e-e "tree," or it could be "typhoon," there's no telling. But it enables this creature, man, to remember things ... as a result, human beings rule every other creature in the world."

...is the cruxt of his argument. AND it's not the case that only humans convert sounds into codes. The dolphin has developed a very complex language and able to live in dolphin societies that are quite successful at surviving away from humans. Killer whales can communicate with their entire species, at once, as their sounds carry to every one simultaneously.

Sure, animals usually have only a few dozen “distinct calls” which deal mostly with their immediate needs for survival, but what need have they for more? Place a man on Kodiac Island with nothing but his bare hands, and he no longer rules “every other creature in the world.” He becomes part of the food chain. He can yell “Go away” all he wants but the Kodiac bear will likely eat him none-the-less. AND will man’s language save the hairless ape from extinction? No. Beat your chest all you want.

Ants will likely continue on long after man has died with his non-verbal communication of pheromones, and the ant societies will continue to rule the day.

Yes, human language is unique, and it is precisely evolution that lead to human language. Saying “speech, not evolution, has made human beings into the creative, imaginative, deliberate, destructive, and complicated beings…” is putting the cart before the horse. Humans created language. Language did not create humans.

“Languages change gradually over time, sometimes due to changes in culture and fashion, sometimes in response to contact with other languages. But the basic architecture and expressive power of language stays the same.”

To state that “There are no traces of any evolution of language through the sounds that apes make…” is not only not phrasing the issue in its proper context, it is arrogant boasting. Neither has man’s language evolved in its “basic architecture and expressive power.”

When Wolfe says this: “And I think it's misleading to say that human beings evolved from animals — actually, nobody knows whether they did or not.” He showcases his ignorance of what evolution actually says. Humans did not evolve from animals (humans are animals), humans and other animals evolved from common ancestors.

Whether or not creationists will use his work as scientific proof of creation has nothing to do with whether or not there is a creator god, or if evolution is responsible for man’s attributes, but more whether or not they understand the scientific method. Atheist’s all too often believe, opine, prove and have evidence for many irrational proposals.

“It's [ED. Speech] enabled us to think up strategies, to head off what you think might be about to happen. And strategies depend upon memory, and speech is a fantastic memory device. There's absolutely nothing like it, and I think it's time for people who are interested in evolution to say that the theory of evolution applies only, only to animals.”

AND yet, man has no clue as to the population pyramid having already turned over, or that the economic pyramid is about to turn over and the consequences of it, let alone come up with a strategy to prevent it. As stated before, man is an animal, but if by this Wolfe really means “non human language speaking animals” he is again showing his ignorance because man will not always rule (if indeed he ever has) and evolution affects all living things. Many creatures will outlive man, not the least of which is the insect. Man is only a temporary visitor in a bug’s world.

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