If a boatload of babies washed up on the Galapagos, how would the babies fare?
Christine Kenneally ends her new book The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language by asking a collection of scholars:
If we shipwrecked a boatload of babies on the Galapagos Islands—assuming they had all the food, water, and shelter they needed to survive—would they produce language in any form when they grew up? And if it did, how many individuals would you need for it to take off, what form might it take, and how would it change over the generations?
It is an elaborate way of asking how dependent we are on the chain of elders who passed language on to us when we were small. The question gave me a chuckle because I was asking the same general question in 1970 and could never find anybody, linguist or not, who took it seriously. How times have changed. Kenneally’s score: 11 say yes some sort of language or protolanguage would appear; 2 say no language would appear; 1 says probably not and 1 it depends.