Survival of the Chattiest

Independent on Sunday, 5 April 1998, pp44-45


For centuries the origin of language has divided scientists. Now a new Darwinian theory is being proposed. But how can this make sense when our ability to talk depends on co-operation, and not competition?

SEVEN thousand tongues are spoken today, it’s said, and half a million may have come and gone since humans acquired the faculty of language, according to the Oxford biologist Mark Pagel. In their attempts to work out how that transformation might have occurred, scholars seem to have deployed comparable numbers of theories, perspectives, papers and bits of jargon. There are noun phrases, generative grammars, voice onset times and fricatives. Continue reading “Survival of the Chattiest”

a) Politics of Sex and Kinship readings

Module Guide 2008


Can women rule the world? Washington Post Women on top Marie Claire

Bamberger, J 1974 The Myth of Primitive Matriarchy

Beckerman & Valentine 2002 The Concept of Partible Paternity

Biesele, M 1993 The Creation of the World

Hawkes, Kristen 2004 The Grandmother Effect

Hegel, G W F 1929 [1812] Logic

Katz, R 1982 Boiling Energy

Knight, C 1987 Menstruation and the Origins of Culture. Unpublished Ph. D. thesis

Knight, C 1997 The wives of the sun and moon

Knight, C 2001 Does cultural evolution need matriliny?

Knight, C 2006a The Politics of Early Kinship

Knight, C 2006b Family Ideology and the Crisis in Twentieth Century Kinship Theory

Knight, C 2006c Decoding Fairy Tales

Knight, C 2008 Early Human Kinship Was Matrilineal

Knight, C and C Power 2005 Grandmothers, Politics and Getting Back to Science

Lattas, 1989 Trickery and Sacrifice

Lewis, J 2008 Ekila: Blood, bodies, and egalitarian societies

Lévi-Strauss, C 1978 The Wives of the Sun and Moon

Ortner, S B 1974 Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?

Power, C nd(a) The Matrilineal Puzzle

Power, C nd(b) Sociobiology, Sex and Gender

Power, C 1994 Sham Menstruation, Sex Strike Theory and Contemporary Implications

Radcliffe-Brown, A R 1952 [1924] The Mother’s Brother in South Africa

Sahlins, M 1960 The Origin of Society

Siskind, J 1973 To Hunt in the Morning

a) Cognitive & Linguistic Anthropology readings

Course outline


Glossary of terms

Speech act theory workshop questions

Searle’s wall

Interactive sagittal section

Alcorta, S. and R. Sosis 2006 Ritual, Emotion and Sacred Symbols

Arcadi, A C 2000 Vocal Responsiveness in Male Wild Chimpanzees

Arnold, K. & K. Zuberbühler 2006 The Alarm-calling System of Adult Male Putty-nosed Monkeys

Austin, J 1962 How To Do Things With Words

Beaugrande, R de 1998 Performative Speech Acts in Linguistic Theory

Bloch, M 1975 Political Language and Oratory in Traditional Society

Bourdieu, P 1991 Authorised Language

Byrne, R W & N Corp 2004 Neocortex size predicts deception rate in primates

Chomsky, N 2005 Three factors in language design

Corballis, M 2002 Did Language Evolve from Manual Gestures?

Dessalles, J-L 1998 Altruism, Status and the Origin of Relevance

Durkheim, E 1912 The Origins of These Beliefs [Notes on Durkheim and totemism]

Hare, B & M Tomasello 2004 Chimpanzees are More Skilful in Competitive than in Cooperative Tasks

Hauser, M et al 2002 The Faculty of Language: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve?

Hurford, J R 2002 The Roles of Expression and Representation in Language Evolution

Hurford, J R 2004 Human Uniqueness, Learned Symbols, and Recursive Thought

Kendon, A 1991 Some Considerations for a Theory of Language Origins

Knight, C 1998 Ritual/Speech Coevolution: a solution to the problem of deception

Knight, C 1999 Sex and Language as Pretend-Play

Knight, C 2000 The Evolution of Cooperative Communication

Knight, C 2000 Play as Precursor of Phonology and Syntax

Knight, C 2000 Culture, Cognition and Conflict

Knight, C 2002 Language and Revolutionary Consciousness

Knight, C 2003 Noam Chomsky: Politics or Science?

Knight, C 2004 Decoding Chomsky

MacNeilage, P 1998 Evolution of the Mechanism of Language Output

Melis, A P, B Hare & M Tomasello 2006 Engineering Cooperation in Chimpanzees: tolerance constraints on cooperation

Merker, B 2000 Synchronous chorusing and human origins

Richman, B 2000 How music fixed ‘nonsense’ into significant formulas

Steklis, H & S Harnad1976 From Hand to Mouth

Tomasello, M 2006 Why Don’t Apes Point?

Tomasello, M et al. 2007 The Cooperative Eye Hypothesis

Ulbaek, I 1998 The Origin of Language and Cognition

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Chris Knight. Unpublished typescript, c.1982

‘Science’, according to Leon Trotsky, ‘is knowledge that endows us with power.’[1] In the natural sciences, the search has been for power over natural forces and processes. Astronomy made possible the earliest calendars, predictions of eclipses, accurate marine navigation. The development of medical science permitted an increasing freedom from and conquest of disease. The modern advances of physics, chemistry and the other natural sciences have today given us an immense power to harness natural forces of all kinds and have utterly transformed the world in which we live.

Continue reading “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”

Human Solidarity and The Selfish Gene

by Chris Knight

University of East London

In 1844, following a four-year voyage around the world, Charles Darwin confided to a close friend that he had come to a dangerous conclusion. For seven years, he wrote, he had been ‘engaged in a very presumptuous work’, perhaps ‘a very foolish one’. He had noticed that on each of the Galapagos Islands , the local finches ate slightly different foods, and had correspondingly modified beaks. In South America , he had examined many extraordinary fossils of extinct animals. Pondering the significance of all this, he had felt forced to change his mind about the origin of species. To his friend, Darwin wrote: ‘I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable’.

Continue reading “Human Solidarity and The Selfish Gene”

The Human Revolution

Most anthropologists have tacitly assumed that human culture was established by men. The ‘Man the Hunter’ myth has dominated palaeoanthropology, now, almost since the inception of the discipline. Through the 1960s and 1970s, it was taken as self-evident that the sexual division of labour, with males going away hunting and bringing home the bacon, emerged millions of years ago in a process linked with the evolution of bipedalism, tool-making and the unusually large human brain.

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