Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

100 Replies to “Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity

  1. Seriously. We could have flying cars right now if we friggin all spoke the same language around the world. And all had the internet at our disposal. We could friggin cure cancer in like a year. I'm serious.

  2. this topic isn't so despicable… quite to the cntrary, it is interesting and intriguing… except the last bit when he says the world would have one language! even if that does happen, dialects will take the place of language in supposing mutual unintelligibility issues….

  3. The use of tools guarantees innovative thought in chimps, Mr. Pagel. The wide spread of this use claims the concept of 'visual theft' as well. It is exceedingly arrogant to claim that humans are the only species capable of innovation and sharing of ideas, when you yourself present evidence of other species doing the same thing. I'd say it's clumsiness (concerning what definitions you use), but it appears it's just good old fashioned human pride.

  4. What makes you say that? I rather suspect a Christian fundamentalist would deny the existence of Neanderthals, of FOXP2, and the entire basis for his scenario for the development of language.

  5. @triforcelink

    They are smart enough that they can learn those skills individually. They don't need to be taught how to use a rock, and neither does humans.

  6. @TheJaredtube i would guess telepathy would eventually make it's way in our gene pool, even tough technology will certainly get us there faster. who is to say tough that that is not the same thing?

  7. Besides, his example of chimps is just not true. There is variety in chimp socieites from one group to another – it is rudimentary chimp culture. That means they learn the way to do things from eachother. The level of innovation may be unbelievably slow but it does not mean they are incapable of Is he's essentially saying that chimps can't learn??? There are chimps that know more than 1,000 words in sign language.

  8. @DebtRich Although I agree with you on the first two points. However it wouldn't be a linguistic prison if the vast knowledge of those languages and cultures are accurately translated into whatever predominant language is agreed upon. Engligh or otherwise. One common language would lead to a common mix of cultures, eventually, though I would have to admit whichever language is agreed upon would probably be the predominant culture throughout society.

  9. I have heard evidence to the contrary on social learning in animals, like the "100th monkey" experiment where one monkey on a remote island began washing their sweet potato before eating it and then a year later almost every monkey on that island was also washing their potato before eating it and then another year or two later, monkeys on another separate island that had made no contact whatsoever with the monkeys from the first island also began washing their potatoes before eating them.

  10. Chimpanzees learn by trial and error. Chimps are just smart enough to figure out how to pick up a rock and crack a nut or to use a stick to get an apple on the other side of a fence. But adult chimps don't teach the young chimps. The young ones learn by watching the adults.

    A young chimp will take as long as 4 years to learn how to crack a nut with a rock. With language, an adult human can teach a child how to crack a nut in mere seconds.

  11. @happydelicious Every person with a belief says exactly the same thing as you: "my belief describes reality" The science of 100 years ago or of 300 years ago all said the same thing and then was proven wrong. Don't get me wrong, science is of a different calibre in developing understanding – but we can't extrapolate it's conclusions in one field and reach truths in all fields. Scientific history shows us not to be so sure of ourselves, without that attitude it never would have got started.

  12. Science finds a description of things which works under particular circumstances using extremely rigorous, detailed and often novel methods of observation. That is the best way to get descriptions that work. The descriptions are formulated in terms which intentionally abstract from the observer. This doesn't mean that the same phenomena can't be observed in different ways, by people operating with different concepts and a different story be told which still fits for the different purposes.

  13. @happydelicious so tell me after reading that, would these alternative but equally effective descriptions be different realities? For the people who accept them they would be the status quo – should they start fighting now?

    Besides that, what we are looking for when it comes to our human lives is precisely what science leaves out in its descriptions: subjective experience. And subjective experience is significantly shaped by just such stories about reality, true or not.

  14. The tools they have are simple. Figuring that out on your own is simple. More complicated tools are much more difficult to make. That requires a collective.

    Think of it this way; do you know how a lightbulb works? Yes? That's because you were taught it. A few hundred years ago, the basic concepts of how a light bulb works were a mystery. We kept adding to a collective knowledge. Without that, we'd only have individual knowledge. You'd be a chimp/

  15. Evolving to have just one language, is like having thousands of paths of evolution and choose just one. I think we should evolve to have only one thing in common: respect and empathy for every fellow human being on Earth; the common language of understanding and reason in our nature but without disposing the precious languages around the world and the points of view that they gather. We have to stop seeing reality in a black & white, good or bad fashion. That's the next step in our evolution.

  16. His "Human Turning Point" option, just pulled out of a puff of hot air, yeah? Language was developed by choice so that man could share ideas rather than steal them or have them stolen? What an utterly bizarre idea, and how strange to force its concession by putting it up against only one other evolutionary option, the small family groups one. Man, even Aristotle's explanation of the development of society was more sophisticated than this… this bloke should visually steal some better ideas!

  17. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of chimps current use of tools is because they saw humans using tools. I could be wrong, but as far as I'm aware a lot if not all of their tool use is fairly recent.

  18. While diversity in language is often synonymous with diversity of culture (and even thought), I think it is likely that English will become the "universal language". The U.S. economy and military dominate the planet in a way that no other culture is likely to duplicate within the time frame of the adoption of a universal language. I hope the other cultures will be able to maintain their identity going forward.

  19. This is probably the worst TED talk I've ever seen. Almost everything he is saying is wrong according to expert consensus on those issues. Has he been to a primatology conference in the last 25 years? Shouldn't these speakers be peer reviewed before they give one of these talks?

  20. I was on board until the whole adopt one language mantra. Somehow I feel like the cost of translators is not the real 'threshold' problem of our species and if we lose 99% of accumulated human knowledge by converting to 1% of our species languages than we will most certainly lose ways of thinking, being, doing and solving. Why not encourage cultural exchange and the learning of second, third and fourth languages? Maybe Mark Pagel has trouble with languages… most people I know speak 3 anyway.

  21. Esperanto is unfair in its nature. Lojban is more suitable globally. Personally I don't think these synthetic languages will ever be prolific enough to serve their intended function though. Language is also culture and history, and these proposed universal languages don't have the richness of organic language.

  22. Agree. Not only do I agree with you that multiple languages are NOT the barrier to solving the worlds problems, but I also take issue with the fact that these kinds of talk presuppose that the goals of humanity should be infinite "progress".

    I used to hold the view that there should be one language, …until I started learning them. Learning other languages has been the most invigorating and eye-opening time of my life. There are perspectives that cannot be translated.

  23. Just look for Patricia Ryan's talk in TEDx Dubai. That makes much more sense to me. By speaking one single language we would be throwing away tons of accumulated knowledge – and future knowledge as well – and perspectives, which is the big contradiction in this talk since he talks about how we can build upon previous ideas.

  24. "Chimps aren't as clever as humans because they keep making the same tools and don't do visual theft. Humans however always do visual theft so they need language to share so they're not a bird without wings. Wings without Paul McCartney would be like Paul McCartney without The Beatles and therefore like a beetle without legs, which can't get anywhere. Any means "any" and "where" means where…as in that's WHERE language evolved. Thank you."

  25. Don't see whats so bad with this video, all he is asking is for a monoculture world, that is going to happen someday, whether you like it or not.

  26. I think its really cool that everything this man just I have thought about for a couple of years now. From trying to understand language is, the correlation of language and the rise of civilizations, the use of one language. I believe that we are heading towards an inevitable reality where words can be more than just an cognitive audio process. Maybe someday we will not HAVE to speak but instead just think and feel conversation and ideas.

  27. The brain is an amazing template, but our current technological advancements are just some indicators on what can be achieved in the near future. Maybe we will reach a point where we can plant chips in our brains to optimize the brain chemistry for learning, socializing, or even just living a higher quality of life. Even by thinking this into existence it has the potential to become a reality.

  28. I agree, besides, technology will soon do completely away w/need of human translators, (do I hear ST uiversal communicator anyone?) & could do away w/our current need of inefficent governments & even the monetary based economic system by creating an efficient administration & production of our world's resources. when i get asked what would humanity do if we allowed tech to liberate us from mundane work, I answer we could spend our entire lives learning other languages & prob. not learn them all.

  29. This is amazing stuff. If I had a suggestion about how to improve the talk, I think Mark sounds a little 'absolute' in dismissing the of ability of animals to 'learn'. That leads to reactions focusing on the visual theft that CAN occur in non-human species. If Mark's tone was more along the lines of 'many animals can visually learn…but the human species is at a completely different level of sophistication in this domain' then many members of his audience would be more receptive.

  30. All animals have language and ability to learn, the difference between them is only one of complexity – this speaker is badly informed

  31. Unfortunate that there is no mention of Esperanto here. This language aims to be a common language. Not a single language dominant language. Big difference !!

  32. Chimps not having social learning ability got nothing to do with the tools (rocks, sticks) that are provided by the nature and environment.

  33. This is outrageous and so rife with unchecked privilege that I feel slightly ill. Three guesses what his choice for this "one language" will be. Apparently multilingualism doesn't exist. Never mind that language extends beyond brokering deals and improving technologies. Such presumption.

  34. You are correct, well done in learning new languages. However, his point was that humans are currently on an evolutionary path that may lead to one dominant language…a path that would take a long time, and one that we may diverge from for other reasons.

    He never mentions 'progress', but change is constant and inevitable. 2000 years from all currently spoken languages will have changed.

  35. Hey can someone briefly explain what is wrong with this talk? I watched it a while back and decided now to re-watch it, after noticing the unusually high amount of downvotes for a TED talk I decided to read the comments — people are saying his thesis is wrong and he wasn't peer reviewed, etc, but can someone tell my specifically what's wrong with this? I am really curious. Thanks in advance.

  36. We aren't the only spices to have language,we are the only one that managed to bring it up to the level we see today. Animals do look at each others an learn that is exactly why chimps create the same tools because they learn from others and unlike humans they do not have the capacity to imagine new and better ways to adapt those tools for there needs,they have only a basic abstract thinking capacity which is to low for complex problem solving.This guy really has no clue what he is talking about

  37. Everyone talks about this RACE problem and says that this RACE problem will be over when the third-world pours into EVERY White country and ONLY into WHITE countries.

    Everyone says the final solution to this RACE problem is for EVERY White country and ONLY White countries to “assimilate,” that is, intermarry, with all those non-Whites.

    They’re pushing wHiTe geNOcide!

    They claim they are “anti-racist”, what they are is anti-White

    Anti-racist is a code for anti-White


    “Anti-racists” SAY they are against white racists, white racism, and white privilege.
    What they are REALLY against is white culture, white civilization, and white people.
    They SAY they want a world without “hate”, without “racism”.
    What they REALLY want is a world without white people.
    What they REALLY want is a world without YOU.
    What they REALLY want is White geNOcide!
    Anti-racist is a >codeword< for anti-White

  39. visual theft?? reasonable hypothesis but where is the proof??? we have no idea if this is what happened. this is one guess out of an ocean of them

  40. language evolution…… why as a society are we adding the letter "S" to the word "ANYWAY"?
    Anyways I was just wondering.

  41. He never mentioned sign languages. So biased…and even with the chimpanzees, he saw them as lesser beings than humans.

  42. When linguistics talk about the “death of languages,” they usually don't mean that as a metaphor. Words die – or better: they are murdered – every day. Read any Western Chine report these days and you will find that the piece is literally Chinese-free. Translation is to language what genocide is to people. Remarkably, language is the only field of the sciences where no revolution has taken place. Yes, we have more nice explanations and theories, all fine. But we are still destroying foreign words as if there was no tomorrow. The only way forward to a Global Language, as I see it, is to limit translation of foreign key terminologies and instead adopting them into our lexicons. This way, we would include all the world’s cultures’ socio-cultural originality into one and thereby value the cultural diversity, originality, and multitude of all human thought. Just saying.

  43. There are quite a few inaccuracies in this talk. Chimpanzees have been proven to have social learning it simply doesn't work as quickly as in humans. Hundreds of laboratory experiments have shown that they can learn by watching others. Most biological anthropologists, ethologists, and primatologists agree on this point. I'm surprised that Mark Pagel so blatantly ignores the literature on this subject. If anyone wants to watch an accessible documentary on the subject watch Ape Genius by National Geographic.      

  44. hmmm-  It's interesting but  unnecessarily  dismissive of other species'  ability  to communicate & work together-  for  example crows….  Plus  not all humans are  reasonable in  their communications  else we wouldn't have so many  wars…

  45. Any ways English is not my mother tongue, but I had to learn it…. to learn and be co-op with people….. form different countries…..

  46. One lanquage to rule them all. Interesting about the cultural (social) learning. And how internet enabled "visual theft" in form of copyright is astounding. Everybody benefits.

  47. This Talk as flawed. Now while I will say that it was given 5 years ago that does not excuse that fact that there have been multiple studies going on about how many different species or animals do in fact have language.

    For instance there was Alex the African Grey Parrot who had amassed a vocabulary of 150 words and could distinguish between objects that were small, large and could count to 6. There is also Rico, a border collie who could recognize over 200 different labels. Even if given a new label he could infer that an unknown word would be referring to the new label and he would remember this association.

    Moving on there are studies that show that species such as Bees, Horses, and Even Trees have their own language that, while it may not be as sophisticated as the human language is still considered to be language.


  48. Why everybody should learn English? Aren´t there more languages round the world? This man should care more about the proliferation of weapons.
    Poor and paltry.

  49. Nonsense!! 'Visual theft', thats just a concept created by capitalists who want you to pay for everything you want to see/have/know.
    And 200 000 years ago people probably did live in very small communities (and definitely not for the purpose of hiding their newly invented things from the others 😀 ). Towns are a thing of our present world, maybe dating back to 10 000 BC, but definitely not 200 000.

    "It seems that we use our language not just to cooperate, but to draw rings around our cooperative groups and to establish identities and perhaps to protect our knowledge and wisdom and skills from eavesdropping."
    obviously this guy is a biologist and not a linguist. We cannot actively change a language on purpose. Language change is something that happens over generations and UNCONSCIOUSLY, through misinterpretations, analogies and simplifications. Humans do NOT decide to speak differently from the group next to them in order to not be understood and be able to protect their 'intellectual property'… on the contrary – wherever different languages get in touch they actually converge so that people can understand each other.

    and concerning the end "one world, one language" issue: people won't stop speaking all their different languages until the USA imposes English upon everyone and punishes them for not speaking English. Which hopefully will never happen. The real solution is: learn languages!
    Especially in a time where Donald Drumpf is about to become the next US president and the majority of the US citizens quite openly HATE Muslims (which is 1,6 billion people, so like 20% of the world population!) and don't want anything to do with them, it is not the right time to ask for ONE language, if Americans are against an actual unity.


  50. Sorry Mr. Pagel, your last sentence have a big lack of global perspective. I really don´t agree with your dilema, "one world, one language". I speak four languages and learning languages I realize that one of the most interesting richess of human been is the cultural diversity. One classical exemple is the word "saudade", in portuguese mean "something" like "miss you", but it´s not exactly "miss someone. Only in portuguese you can really understand the real meaning of this word. Each language reflect the way each society see and understand the world. Each language is a different world.

  51. Language is not a solution to the "crisis of visual theft". This video, like many other videos about the evolution of language, is the result of researcher bias. It's an example of a "researcher" finding what he/she was looking for. A biologist is talking about the origin of language? Hmm so a non-linguist is presenting himself as an expert on the origin of language? Nope. This guy has no clue what he is talking about. Here are some questions that if posed to him, would reveal exactly how clueless he is about language.

    1. How would the maturational constraints affect the ability of early man to create the first language?
    2. Who had language acquisition capacity and who did not have language acquisition capacity when the first language was formed?
    3. What were the ages of the creators of the first language?
    4. What is the difference between vocabulary and language?
    5. If Genie Wiley was able to learn words (and she learned many words) why couldnt she acquire language.

    This guy would not be able to answer any of these questions but a linguist could. This guy knows nothing about the origin of language and he should stick to TED talks about biology.

  52. I don't think this guy is a linguist, maybe a evolutionary biologist. I don't think even an anthropologist would make this many mistakes. First, there's two big "camps" in linguists: those that think language is an innate biological function and those that think it's entirely learned. As always, the truth is a mix of both extremes. Secondly, there are many examples of animals having near language-like abilities such as Koko the gorilla, Kanzi the bonobo, Alex the parrot. Most animals used simple systems of communication. Third, it's unclear when language developed, and for what reasons. There's absolutely no reason for Pagel to be so sure in his hypothetheory. All we know is language emerged at least one between 200,000 to 50,000 years ago. Also, his views of the future are actually kind of gross. Once you realize that language is a central and integral part of a people's culture, his vision sounds more like genocide that a united world. TED should do a better job at vetting people.

  53. Largely irrelevant IMO.
    Biological preadaptations to human speech & language,
    google: "Speech originS 2017 Verhaegen"

  54. Honey Bees communicate with each other yet they are still doing the exact same thing as their ancestors did millions of years ago.

  55. This version of events omits the fact that even when new ideas are made public immediately after their conception in a spirit of cooperation, a tendency to capitalize on them exists. The result can be plagiarism, or in a more grandiose form, industrial espionage. While an open market can drive competition, it may as often hamper progress by returning production to the stagnant level of the bug-munching chimpanzees.

  56. 🏓 😎🏓 We hope some day soon everybody will be able to speak Chinese to each other !  Correct me if you are wrong ?  Because Chinese is the only truly written 3-D sound+form+meaning all 3-in-1single note character language in this world,  it's not just using voice alone (pronunciation letters) 🐵 like many other primitive natives without written languages to communicate with each other that simple. Every Chinese character can be pronounced by over 56 different dialects in China without changing it's meaning what so ever ‼️   ➡️ Imagining we all speak and write English in  USA, FBI, SUV, DIY, AI, SOB, BS, KGB, CIA, ABC? BBC? CBC, CBS, NBA, NBC, IBM, UFO, OK, IOU, A+, KMA, DOM !, LOL . . . . . forms,  that is exactly what single note Chinese characters have done for the last 5,000 years❗️ Instead of only 26 letters plus a few Greek & Latin etc. symbols which makes useless words at best as above, we have over 3,500 creative single note characters plus their familiar parts at our disposal that's all 🆒. Now you can really appreciate the high speed at which all Chinese people were able to communicate with each other !  Just like that 5G super high speed system in the future.  Therefore the future will belong to China 🇨🇳 sooner than you think ! ! !  ☎️ So Sorry ! 📞 This is a recording.➡️ If I can learn【中文 = Chinese Language】I am sure anybody with normal IQ level can learn too❗️Actually I had a hard time learning English language by memorizing so many unrelated illogical vocabulary and inflexible grammar !  That's why I took B. Math. instead,  because it has only 10 digits or 2 digits for computer science better yet, and they are much less than English's 26 that many letters ‼️ Then I discovered that English are also hard on the computer storage spaces,  because English words are 5 letters long on the average plus a space between two uneven length of words.  On the other hand,  Chinese characters can all be represented by 4 letters each with no space needed in between them therefore they are 50% shorter than each English word on the average.‼️ As a matter of fact,  the thinnest copy of U.N. Charter is printed in Chinese.  Less paper also means less pollution on earth !🆗👍➡️。Subject: "3500 Characters vs. 26 Letters:   Efficient  or  Inefficient ?"   by  Kening  Li ‼️🏓😎🏓。💙 。My final conclusion is ❗️➡️ In short:  ❌English 🇺🇸 is an 【analogy language】and  ✅Chinese 🇨🇳 is a 【digital language】‼️ They complimented each other❓🆒👍✅❤️‼️

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