Back of History: The Story of Our Own Origins

By William Howells | Go to book overview

4 Language: how we talk

There is one more noticeable difference between men and apes, or other animals. We talk, and they do not; that is to say, we have language. If Siegfried heard the birds talking after he had tasted dragon's blood, the dragon's blood must have been fermented. For language proper is culture, and out of reach of the beasts.

That is not to say that they do not communicate. In the first place, animals readily sense excitement, emotion or shifts in attention on the part of their fellows, and act accordingly. The Primates, as usual, are pre-eminent at this sort of thing and, according to those who know chimpanzees best, the understanding of a situation which can run through a group of them by means of slight attitudes, gestures and facial expressions is a marvel to see. And there is some evidence that this ability helps them considerably to co-operate, as social groups, in their natural surroundings--another manifestation of their high "intelligence." Nissen, for example, tells of being spotted by a single chimpanzee of a group, the others being hidden in the foliage. Chimp number one at once climbed up to where the others were; Nissen did not see what took place, but the whole band came down and trooped off, without trying to see him for themselves.

They have more specific means of communicating. Monkey mothers, for instance, signal their offspring with a gesture to climb aboard when they wish to go elsewhere. But certainly a principal method is actual communication by voice. Howling monkeys not only howl; they cluck to signify that a good pathway has been found, they gurgle if something suspicious makes.

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Back of History: The Story of Our Own Origins
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Books by William Howells 2
  • Title Page 3
  • Acknowledgments 7
  • Content 9
  • Prologue 13
  • The Nature of Human Life 17
  • 1 - The Coming of Mankind 17
  • 2 - The Meaning of Society 31
  • 3 - Culture: How We Behave 45
  • 4 - Language: How We Talk 56
  • The Old Hunters--The First Step 69
  • 5 - Early Tools: The Lower Paleolithic 69
  • 6 - Early Men 82
  • 7 - The End of the Stone Age 101
  • 8 - The Last Living Hunters 118
  • The New Farmers -- the Second Step 135
  • 9 - The First Food Growers: The Neolithic 135
  • 10 - The Spread of Modern Races 154
  • 11 - Asia and the Western Farmers 168
  • 12 184
  • 13 - African Herders and Gardeners 206
  • The New Societes 223
  • 14 - The Organization of Society 223
  • 15 - The Meaning of Religion 241
  • 16 - Inventions and Changes 255
  • The New World 17 the Oldest Americans 273
  • Cities and Bronze-The Third Step 315
  • 19 - The Cradles of Civilization in Asia 315
  • 20 - Egypt, Crete and the Beginnings of Europe 336
  • Epilogue 353
  • Author's Note 363
  • Index 365
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