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The Domestication of LanguageCultural Evolution and the Uniqueness of the Human Animal$
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Daniel Cloud

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780231167925

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231167925.001.0001

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Where Do Words Come From?

Where Do Words Come From?

(p.1) 1 Where Do Words Come From?
The Domestication of Language

Daniel Cloud

Columbia University Press

This chapter revives the idea that our existing languages are partly the product of ongoing human invention and human judgment, that particular individuals did, and still do, play a role in deciding what our language will be like that is something like the role of Quine's imagined “syndics.” It argues that it is not that our languages were deliberately invented by particular groups of people, legislators, or syndics in the formal sense of those words, sitting around particular tables, at particular times in the past. It seems that they are more like our dogs, our wolfhounds, and sheepdogs. We did not invent them exactly, but our ancestors did repeatedly make deliberate, more or less rational choices in the process that made them what they are today—choices among a long series of slightly incrementally different variants, unconsciously shaping the dogs into precisely what their human breeders needed them to be.

Keywords:   human language, human invention, human judgment, Quine, syndics

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