Before articulated language, the hominins played incipient forms of artistic languages.
For a human language to emerge, it is necessary to have something to say. And when you have something to say, nothing and no one can prevent you from getting communicated, sooner or later. I know from experience.
The hominins had something to say. They found themselves in a borderline situation and, trapped in it, discovered something new, unique on the planet until then. They needed to share it with others and share the power and collective intelligence necessary to survive. The construction of tools-weapons was his first discovery. The human language was the second. At first it was not a rich and modular language to infinity like ours. It was a protolanguage, not very different from that of our one or two year old children.
How did they invent it? Doing DIY and with time. With learning and evolutionary adaptations that required the emergence of several different species of homo and thousands of generations. The hominins who started this story became extinct. The genes that survived recombined into a new species. That also became extinct and another and another… Until we get to ours. As we have put the name ourselves, we call ourselves “modern man“. And we do not know how to designate the species that happens to us, if there is any that does.
I say it was DIY, because they took advantage of everything within their reach. Nature had been doing the same with life on this planet for four billion years. The hominins did it in much less time, because they learned from each other through their brains, their hands, their vocal and gestural expressions: not only through their genes. This DIY made with remains, we call protolanguage. From there, the language we speak now and all our spiritual culture came out over time.
Now we will descend to detail.
In previous chapters
We have analyzed the cognitive skills acquired by hominins in the experience of building tools:
– Pragnanz as a human form of feeling of the possible being; resulting from the work experience through the left hand. Likewise, the result of the same experience, of the pragnanz as a phenomenon and mental state resulting from emotionally engaging in a task (1).
– The determination as an ability to know the abstract being of the tool as sharp or piercing, resulting from the work experience through the right hand. And also the determination as a process and mental state of making the goal-oriented decision (2).
– The specifically human collective intelligence as a result of the sharing of work experiences, both artisanal and collaborative in the tasks of food collection and group hunting (3) (4) (5).
– The awareness of the individual existence obtained from the social experience of loss and recovery of the social being of the other as one of ours (6).
– The differentiated consciousness of subject (me, us) and object (they, product of work, and plants and hunting as food products) (7).
– A more complex level of situation awareness, due to the experience of creating frameworks inside and outside the implicit framework of the current situation (8).
These cognitive skills include mental contents that could be communicated to each other. The means to communicate them were: a brain in strong evolution. A phonation apparatus (mouth, tongue, teeth, larynx, pharynx, lungs) evolving also; a human mind capable of feeling empathy and communicating it through mirror neurons; and a system of gestures with the mouth and hands, facial and body expressions.
If you imitate this animation with blows of the hand on the table, do you remember something?
I could remember the knocking on a door. But it would not be any call, but urgently. Something that does not admit more delay, when the waiting time has run out: a limit situation.
I am sure someone has recognized it: It is the “call of destiny“: The tune signal of the London BBC in its shortwave broadcasts to the Nazi-occupied countries during World War II. The BBC sent a message of hope and determination to the peoples subjugated in the occupation. Often the broadcast then included secret messages, coded for the Resistance forces.
To tune in to its station, the BBC used the theme of Beethoven’s 5th symphony composed in 1804-1808. In it, the composer tells several stories, almost all using variations of this theme.
All represent the temporal sequence of a stable situation, followed by a surprise. It is such a simple structure, that it is in the size of a stone lasca of the homininos. Therefore, they had the necessary experience to understand its meaning. That simple structure contains the meaning of something tragic and inevitable; and at the same time – in his determination – represents the hope and even the joy of a happy ending.
Both variants are found as possible exits from any borderline situation, which can only be resolved through the framework of the situation itself. It can be represented with claps of the hands or hitting with a branch on a hollow trunk. And the hominins had the necessary aptitude to do it; then they had something to say and they had to communicate and share it. In doing so, they were creating human protolanguage.
But it was more than that. A protolanguage or developed language is nothing more than tools. Tools to build stories.
Or, perhaps, the same history of mankind in infinite variants with the same backbone script: “We are strong despite our weakness, we are great despite our smallness. We are immortal despite being mortal. We have passed severe trials and conflicts, but we have got here, because we remained united, even when we were separated“.
I already said in another chapter that the hominins managed to tell stories without words. And they didn’t stop there. They would soon find words that would become, much later, in spoken languages. And not only in words. They also developed various means of expression inherited from the apes. And that, over time, they would differentiate themselves in the different arts that today form our cultural heritage.
The next chapter: Telling stories through art, explains how all the arts serve to tell stories, and always tell the same, although in different ways.
See Chapter index
Current chapter NOTES
(1) See: Pragnanz in the left hand
(2) See: Determination on the right
(3) See: Social intelligence
(4) See: Gatherers and hunters
(5) See: Telling stories without words
(6) See: The reencounter with the lost being
(7) See: The separation of subject and object
(8) See: Framing the situation