The blogger. Edmund Blair Bolles at a reunion of Peace Corps Volunteers in October 2007. Photo taken by fellow volunteer Marilyn Kelly.
Last month, without my noticing, I passed the first anniversary of this blog. Now that I have noticed the event, I thought this might be a good time to update the “declaration of purpose” with which I began this blog (here). Visitors to the site regularly check out that original post, but I did not read it once it went up. So I looked it up and find that, at least, the main ambition of the blog has held steady and stayed in my mind:
…become the main source of news and information about the evolution of speech, from primate vocalizations to meaningful exchanges. … The questions that concern this blog are where did [speech] come from? Why did we evolve it? When did we evolve it? How did we evolve it? Somewhere along the human line our ancestors began speaking while chimpanzee ancestors did not. What accounts for the difference?
My anticipated reward for success at understanding the origins of speech is also the same as I suggested at the outset, gain “a good, detailed knowledge of just what it is that made humans human,” although it is plain that not everybody who writes in this field looks for the same reward. Some expect to find that the differences between animals (including the great apes) and humans are overrated and that we are part of a continuum of species, not an outlier. Others are looking for mechanical and computational explanations of speech’s details. How did we become talking machines? But whatever goal drives one’s curiosity we are all faced with the same data and are pushed in the direction it points.
What has changed is my sense of the elements of speech. The original declaration of purpose listed a series of “elements of speaking” that now needs revising. Below is my current list of elements. If we understood their development we would have a good detailed knowledge of how we came to be human, although, as I said in my original post, “we must admit that with so many circumstances lost forever, the best we can hope for is probably a very grainy story. But right now, grainy sounds good.” Grainy still sounds good, but perhaps the list is a bit more clearly focused: