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Women's Role In The Origins Of Language
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 18:45
It was once rare for language origins theorists to even mention women. But the anthropologist Sara Hrdy has changed all that. Traditionally, labour was considered the co-operative framework within which language evolved. Hrdy's point is that while this is true, the kind of labour which gave rise to language was cooperative childcare. Chris Knight will build on this insight to explain how language presupposes very special levels of honesty and trust. The necessary mutual understanding was established in the first instance between mothers who, for the first time, were willing to trust someone else hold their baby without harming it. In place of 'the tool-making ape' or 'the hunting ape', modern evolutionary science now places 'the baby-sitting ape' centre stage.
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From time immemorial, numerous illiterate tribes have created, through the impossible terrain of the Sino-Tibetan Marches, fiercely independent kingdoms which thrived until the early 20th century. Many of them pledged allegiance to the Chinese Empire, as did the little-studied matriarchal “Nu Er Guos” queendoms described in the Chinese Annals until 742. Today, these regions are less isolated, but in spite of the Chinese influence, polyandry is making a come-back. Marriage-less matrilineal societies still flourish in a few remote valleys and courtship customs implying that women would cherry-pick among pretenders have only recently disappeared. Could this unusual state of affairs be the remains of these ancient matriarchal queendoms?
Or is it also that the extreme remoteness of these realms has preserved age-old traditions once common elsewhere? Both Chinese and Greek earliest texts stated that people “knew their mothers but not their fathers.”
I will argue that, contrary to current western androcentric assumptions, patriarchy is not timeless and the nuclear family is not universal. Rigorous ethnographic scholarship demonstrates that around the globe humans have adopted many different reproductive strategies, all of which were successful and many of which endured until today despite the spread of monotheistic religions and globalization. Time has come for academia to base its claims on facts rather than theories whose primary purpose was, and still is, to justify the status quo.