Chapter One: A Castle in the Air
Languages are much more than just words. To be sure, language is a collection of words, i.e., sounds that people of a speaking community agree among themselves will mean certain things, but the words must be draped upon a grammatical infrastructure if they are to properly carry the meanings they are intended to convey. Words strung together with no consideration of grammar (and not just nitpicky prescriptive rules grammarians believe are theirs to enforce, but the deep principles of universal grammar) are meaningless. The basic sentence requires an actor and something that the actor does (i.e., a subject and verb, according to my 9th grade football coach cum English teacher). It might also include the object of the subject’s action. All languages use this same basic structure, if not always in the same order. Knowing this essence of language is critical to understanding how it evolved. Grammar is to a language something of what skeletal structure is to vertebrates—the scaffolding upon which meaning and change are draped.
A goodly portion of the words in any language don’t really have any concrete meanings at all. What is the meaning of “a” in English? How about “the”, or the ending often added to make the past tense of verbs, “-d”? Indeed, outside of context, there is none. Again, it is grammatical structure that builds the castle of meaning in the air. And it can vary widely. The subject can come before the object, if it is denoted with postpositions (as in Japanese), or if it carries an extra marker (like a “-u” in Russian). Something does something, and perhaps does it to something else. That is the basic structure of grammar. There are multitudes of means for conveying the meaning, many of which are specific to each language, all of which depend on those seemingly meaningless words like a and the and suffixes like –d and –s. It’s almost enough to make you want to become a deaf mute. Or perhaps is, until you find out that sign language has all the same structure and complications as spoken languages.
The complications don’t end there. Some languages (famously, Hebrew and Arabic) don’t even have vowels in their verbs. Their verbs are an unpronounceable string of consonants (s-l-m in Arabic is the root for “be at peace”). The verbs exist as an abstraction whose meaning only becomes concrete upon the insertion of vowels, and which particular vowels are inserted determine the verb’s inflection and sometimes also the verb’s subject, and occasionally even reveal its object. A Hebrew or Arabic verb has a whole sentence in its consonant root, just waiting to be formed by adding the appropriate vowels. So s-l-m becomes salima—“he was at peace”, or muslim—“one who causes to be at peace”, or salam—“being at peace”, etc.
How in the world could such a complex method of conjugation creating meaning have arisen without, like an eyeball, a designer? The answer is in the same way the eyeball did—by tiny increments. But with language the operation of simple forms yielding to more complex entities as seen in nature is somewhat reversed. Words and phrases arise somewhat awkwardly and emphatically, bending towards complexity rather than simplicity, in proportion with the ideas sought to be conveyed, and often with a bit of panache in the making. A new word or phrase mutation is generally either an improved (more efficient, more distinct, etc.) means of conveying an old idea, or the best means of conveying a new one. Over time the new word or phrase often degrades into a sort of shorthand, ultimately paring its meaning, leaving a space for another new word to appear, and the process to start anew. It is roughly this process that took “go” from denoting physical movement to describing future intent, “going to”, to the shorthand, “gonna” , in the vernacular common to American English speakers, especially in the South. Eventually when gonna becomes too generalized to carry the particulars which its antecedent “go” had described, a new word will arise to fill its space, if in fact the space it vacated is still required for communication.
Chapter Two Perpetual Motion
The first evolutionary rule of language is that living languages change dramatically and quickly and ceaselessly. Take the following excerpts through the years of the biblical story of the flood, found in Genesis:
Circa 2000 ad
The Lord regretted having made humankind on the earth…So the Lord said: ‘I will wipe the human beings I have created off the face of the earth, people together with animals and reptiles and birds of the air, because I regret having made them…’
Circa 1600 (the King James Bible)
It repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth…And the Lord said: ‘I will destroy man whom I haue created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the foules of the aire, for it repenteth me that I have made them.
Circa 1400 (Wycliffe Bible)
It forthought him that he had made man in erthe. ‘I shall do awey,’ he seith, ‘man, whom I made of nought, fro the face of the erthe, fro man vnto thingis hauynge soule, fro crepynge beest vnto fowles of heuen, forsothe it othenkith me to haue maad hem.
Circa 1000 (Translation of Aelfric)
Gode ofthuhte tha thaet he mann geworhte ofer eorthan…And cawed: ‘Ic adylgie thone man, the ic gesceop, fram there eorthan ansyne, fram tham men oth tha nytenu, fram tham slincendum oth tha fugelas: me ofthingth sothlice that ic hi worhte.’
With all the words it tags as misspellings, my poor little subscript-squiggling word processor is apt to blow a circuit if we go any further back. It only takes looking back a thousand years for English to appear as much a foreign tongue as French or German might to an English speaker today. I find this utterly remarkable and fascinating. How in the world could language, believed to exist as stable platform of agreed upon conventions to use in communicating, so drastically change over such a short period of time? It’s really very simple.
As Deutscher points out, “Linguistic diversity is thus a direct consequence of geographical dispersal and language’s propensity to change.” Language evolves for the exact same reasons as creatures evolve. We owe it all to plate tectonics, or to simplify to the barest nub, it is gravity that drives linguistic diversity. Or, at least that explains the geographical dispersion portion of language’s propensity to change, but doesn’t tell why the same language (i.e., the English quoted above) changes so much while staying on more or less the same rocky, windswept isle in the North Atlantic. The English from these passages suffered no geographical dispersion, (unlike the English eventually spoken in North America, Australia, Canada, etc.,) yet the language still changed, and quite dramatically. What gives?
There is no planning aforethought that forces change upon language. It is not changed like prices are set by the Politburo, from the top down. What prompts the users of a language to fashion its change? Duetscher lists three things: Economy, expressiveness and analogy. I would have put it all down to economy, with expressiveness and analogy being two aspects of language economics that forces change, but I quibble.
By economy, Duetscher means that people will ever an always take the shortest, least costly route to their destination, no matter whether the route in question is their daily commute or is the pronunciation of “going to”, keeping in mind that some routes are taken for the express purpose of wasting time, or for the scenery, or whatever. The point is that man is a rational animal who behaves rationally when it comes to the price he pays to express himself. The least costly route that achieves the greatest “revenue” in communicating his idea is the one he’ll pick.
Which segues nicely, as the revenue side of the ledger is what is captured with expressiveness. The expressive effectiveness of communication determines the benefits to be gained through it. If veering a bit off the beaten path of language convention achieves more expressive effect, then the revenue, i.e., the gain, generated by the communication increases. It is for expressive effect that new words and phrases are so often adopted by the young.
Deutscher’s last category, analogy, speaks to the mind’s craving for order. And make no mistake, the mind craves order. It slots things into categories, or relates them to previous experiences through analogy, because of its compulsion to understand the world in the quickest and most efficient manner possible. Categorization and analogy are two of the principal ways the mind accomplishes the task of sorting through the cacophony of information delivered via its myriad means of sensing the environment. The mind has as its object making quick sense of the environment in a way that maximizes the survival and propagation prospects of the body in which it resides. Analogy and categorization are two shortcuts the mind employs in presenting a relevant and actionable view of reality to the creature it inhabits.
Duetscher points out that words change not only in meanings, but also in pronunciation, and for much the same economic reasons. For example, words in English (and other languages like Danish, Italian and French) that began with the “P” sound have gradually been transformed into words beginning with the “F” sound, as the F sound requires less effort than does the P. (The P sound requires a puff of air be expelled between pursed lips. The F sound places less strain on the lungs, as only a bit of pressure against the front teeth need be applied. The difference in energy consumption is subtle but real, and is enough for the F’s to survive and propagate at a differentially higher rate than the P’s, to put the transformation into the terms of evolutionary theory). The transformation is still underway—my dictionary devotes 169 pages to the P’s, while the F’s only take 84, but this gradual shift in pronunciation is how a pisk in German became a fisk (maybe around 400 bc), which then became a fish in English. But it is imperative to understand that the change from P to F did not involve a gradual shift in the manner with which the P and F sounds were pronounced. P was pronounced P. F was F. What happened is that a subset of the lingual community began replacing the initial P of some word with the F sound. The new pronunciation for the word gained adherents until reaching some critical mass, whereupon it went viral, spreading throughout the community until everyone pronounced the word with an F sound instead of a P. Unless the process happened during the time of writing, i.e., for English, in the last millennia or so, its timing is impossible to know.
Chapter Three The Forces of Destruction
In every age it seems, the great and learned rail against the corruption of the culture’s language by the young. There is even, in France, the Academie Francaise, singularly devoted to preserving the purity of the French language. The Academie has been around several centuries, which is all for the good, as French remains under constant and withering attack, like all living languages, from the destructive forces of change. But the Academie will only succeed if it can somehow figure a way that it might kill the French tongue completely, as the only languages that don’t change are the dead ones.
There is a process of transformation (“decay” to the great and learned) so common to the Indo-European languages that it carries among linguists the title “Grimm’s Law”, from a study of languages done by the fairy tale writers, the Brothers Grimm. Simplified, the law provides that from Indo-European beginnings (the source language for the Germanic languages, of which English is but one), B’s become P’s which become F’s; D’s become T’s which become Th’s; G’s become K’s which become Ch’s which sometimes become H’s. The law exemplifies what is happening at all times to all languages—there is a relentless wearing away of sounds and winnowing of meanings. The unfolding of language is entropy in action, bearing witness in real-time of its erosive effects. It is a mountain stream that erodes word sounds and meanings as if they were boulders lying in its path.
But with all this relentless destruction, it would seem that language would eventually devolve to monosyllabic grunts and snorts, capable of conveying only the simplest of humanity’s animalistic impulses. Instead it grows ever more complex, or at least, retains its communicative ability through time. How is this so? As words are weathered by usage like boulders in a stream’s path, their detritus forms the foundation for the next creation of the language community. It is all a matter of metaphor, as the next chapter makes clear.
Chapter Four A Reef of Dead Metaphors
Metaphor is not just the realm of poets and lyricists and imaginative authors of fiction. It is everyone’s domain. All a metaphor does is compare something to something else, for example, language unfolds like life evolves. In making comparisons, a metaphor might make its point through similarities or distinctions. It is supposed that metaphors are the exclusive purview of writers because the great ones find similarities and distinctions others fail to see. But metaphors are used by everyone, every day. The concept is much broader than just a means of lyricizing speech.
Deutscher points out that moving vans in Greece bearing the word “metaphor” in their names aren’t claiming they can help with creative writing. They are employing the original definition of the compound “carry across” (meta=across; phor=carry). In its original meaning, to metaphor is to carry something, not just a word’s meaning, across to some other place. In linguistics, metaphors carry concepts across domains and categories. The mind relentlessly categorizes. Slipping a new something into an existing category involves comparisons within and without the category. Thus the mind also relentlessly metaphorizes (my word).
Metaphors move ideas, just as language itself moves ideas, from the concrete to the abstract. Ground-breaking plans don’t actually break ground, but are simply new plans. Power is not actually curbed by legislation, but is rendered less potent, just as car parked on a curb is less potent than one being driven down the street. Words generally start out describing concrete physical phenomenon, which are then metaphored (my word, again—metaphor should be a verb, as it denotes movement, if of an abstract kind in the English language) into the abstract.
Consider, for example, the word “decide”. It has Latin roots in de-caedere—cut off. But the notion that the physical act of cutting is similar to the abstract act of deciding arose in several languages. In German, which is not descended from Latin, but has the same Indo-European roots, the word for decide, ent-scheiden derives from scheiden, ‘separate’. Similar relationships between the physical act of cutting or separating something and the abstract concept of deciding upon a course of action are also found in Greek, Swahili, Basque, Indonesian, Endo and even Akkadian (an ancient language of the Sumerians), biblical Hebrew and Chinese. The metaphorizing (again, my word) that transformed cut or separate, a concrete thing, into decide, an abstract concept among several different languages, seems a bit analogous to the process through which light sensitive cells became eyeballs or photoreceptors in animals as diverse as monkeys and starfish.
Decide no longer presents the image to our eye of cutting or separating something, as surely it did for Latin peasants upon its initial extension in Latin from the concrete to the abstract. It is a dead metaphor, and every language is full of them. This is the reef to which Deutscher refers in the title to the chapter. Language is like a coral reef, built on the carcasses of its once lively metaphors. All words conveying abstract ideas started out as words conveying concrete, physical phenomenon. It was metaphor that literally carried them across. Duetscher goes into great and exquisite detail explaining the notion of possession, and how the idea represent in English as “have” traveled from the concrete to the abstract in several languages.
And then this little gem—Duetscher observes that Einstein was hardly the first to observe the connection between space and time. He may have been the first to explicitly link the two concepts in a theory of the whole universe, but people have always known, if their languages are any clue, that space and time are intricately linked, from the book:
For in language—any language—no two domains are more intimately linked than space and time. Even if we are not always aware of it, we invariably speak of time in terms of space, and this reflects the fact that we think of time in terms of space.
Think of the preposition from in English. You can go from London to Paris (space) and stay there from Monday to Friday (time) and the distance you traveled will more likely than not be explained as two hours on the plane or six hours (whatever it actually costs) on the Chunnel train. Space and time are concepts the human mind innately interweaves into the fabric of its consciousness. In many respects, the concept of time is just a means of explaining shifts in spatial relationships to continually unique configurations. Linguistics is fun.
Chapter Five Forces of Creation
A point which Deutscher returns to frequently is that nothing comes from nothing which along with the idea that Einstein didn’t discover anything new, would be riotously opposed by theoretical mystics, er, physicists today, who do believe, at least some of them, that the universe arose from nothing. In the context of linguistics, the point is that grammatical elements don’t just appear out of thin air.
Deutscher then goes into great detail on how the verb go, which originally started life as a spatial marker—to actually, physically move something (usually one’s own body) from one place to the next—became the grammatical element going to which signifies a temporal relationship. I’m gonna stay home hardly denotes physical movement. The subject is not moving anywhere, but is instead describing something that will happen upon the passage of time. Was it any accident that a verb signifying spatial movement was modified a bit and transformed into one signifying temporal movement? Go and going to (gonna) speak to the mechanism through which words arise, but also to the close relationship between space and time in the human mind that Einstein so miraculously discovered.
But the problem confronted with all this erosion is that we haven’t yet arrived at the point of creation. If nothing comes from nothing, and living languages are definitely not eroding into oblivion, from where comes the creative force?
Erosion is pregnant with creation. By the process of eroding words, of taking two or more separate words and rounding off the pronunciations until the words become one, the field is left bare to take the newly eroded word and make new combinations. It appears it is most often done for emphasis. Take the English word above, and the phrase commonly heard with it, up above.
In Old English ufan meant ‘on up’—it was the locative case of the preposition uf ‘up’. But this little ufan was not considered nearly sturdy enough, so it was reinforced by another preposition, be ‘by’, to give a beefier ‘by on up’. But before long, be-ufan was assaulted by the forces of erosion, and ended up as a mere bufan. Naturally the syllabically-challenged bufan had to be pumped up again, this time by the preposition an ‘on’, to give an-bufan ‘on by on up’. Later on anbufan was ground down by erosion, and—to cut a long story short—ended up as the modest above. But it seems that a mere above doesn’t soar nearly high enough nowadays, so we sometimes feel the need to reinforce it with ‘up’, to give ‘up above’—literally ‘up on by on up’.
To put this in economic terms, the value of words always erodes; they carry less and less meaning over time. To recapture their emphasis, to regain their impact, new words are added, through phrases like ‘up above’, even when it literally means, when all the erosions are accounted for, ‘up on by on up’, which is utterly nonsensical, and obviously not the meaning that it carries today. Adding words to ‘up’ to above is like moving a decimal one place to the left to account for currency that has lost value because of the erosive effects of inflation. The US Federal Reserve is just doing by design to currency what has happened to languages unintentionally throughout history.
Chapter Six Craving for Order
Lest there be any doubt that the forces of creation are the equal to those of destruction such that the language does not devolve into a series of monosyllabic grunts, behold the Semitic verb system. Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic, et al) have an extraordinarily complex verb system whereby verbs are comprised of a non-pronounceable string of (usually) three consonants, which are given meaning and pronunciation, and are inflected, through the addition of vowels along the string, either within it or at its end or beginning. And nobody designed, planned, engineered, devised or in any way developed the system. Like the mammalian eye, it arose through a long process of winnow and add, winnow and add, etc. What exists today is the net effect of all the additions and deletions.
Deutscher has a five section exegesis within this paragraph on how the Semitic verb system arose, which is well worth the read, but can be summarized as follows. The Semitic language began with normal verbs, i.e., with verbs that had both consonants and vowels more or less rigidly affixed in their structure. Somewhere along the way, it was discovered that a verb’s tense could be changed by simply changing a vowel (i.e., a soft sound in its pronunciation). English and German do this today, with verbs changing from present to past tense, like sit and sat, or with nouns when deriving the plural, as in goose and geese. Once it was discovered that the consonants could stay the same and only the vowels change to inflect the verbs, there arose by gradations the various two and three consonant verbs that sometimes carry whole sentences in meaning (depending on the inserted vowels). It was a very intricate series of steps through which vowels eventually became variables in a set string of consonants denoting each verb, but it proceeded in step by logical step fashion. Somewhere along the way developed the notion that a changed vowel could be used as a grammatical marker. From there, the rest is history.
The end result is that the Semitic language verbal system, looked at from the tail end of the process, is as complicated a structure to be found in language. Semitic verbs carry a great deal of meaning in what amounts to very short words. Most verbs have three consonants, but many of the presumed older verbs (e.g., for basic functions like sex and eating and sleeping) have only two, and some newer verbs used in the revivified Hebrew are even adding a fourth consonant, to help with the heavy lifting that the verbs do in conveying meaning.
Once the notion of creating words via consonantal template arose once, it is easy to see how it could “go viral” as the kids might say of some Youtube video. As complex as they at first appear, they are extremely efficient mechanisms for conveying ideas, sometimes whole strings of ideas. The process of erosion ultimately, through the vehicle of analogy innate to mankind’s order-seeking mind, yielded superficial complexity disguising a deeply efficient grammatical structure. Following a path of linguistic evolution really is as much fun as imagining the course of an organism’s evolution, except that languages evolve much more rapidly than organisms, so provide a more intricately resolved picture of the forces guiding evolution.
Chapter Seven The Unfolding of Language
Now we get to the fundamentals of language, i.e., grammatical construction. The first principle of grammar is that things which are related (spear, throw) must appear nearby in the sentence. It wouldn’t do for understanding if the sentence, “man throw spear kill mammoth” were instead “kill spear mammoth throw man”. The subject-verb ordering could be reversed, in that the sentence could read, “throw man spear mammoth kill”, without doing any grammatical damage. But the words that are most closely related necessarily must be closest in the structure of the sentence. It is not as obvious with this caveman lingo, as with a more complex sentence, but the principle remains.
The second principle is that events must be related in the order in which they occurred. Caesar came, saw and conquered (veni, vidi, vici) rather than vidi, vici, veni, which might have been applicable had it been referring to a different type of conquest than military (i.e., a sexual conquest).
The third principle is that languages always develop grammars along the most economical lines possible. For example, if repeating an actor’s name is not required for clarity, it will be deleted, or replaced with a pronoun.
And the fourth and last original principle of grammatical construction is that the primary subject of a sentence come first, or as Deutscher puts it, ‘me first’ and ‘actor first’. The most important noun in the sentence, which in conversation is usually the speaker, naturally comes first, with the action following. This is the way the grammars for roughly 90% of the world’s languages are structured, with the notable exceptions of Hebrew and Welsh. After the actor/subject first, the verb and object can follow in any order. Languages are split about 50-50 on this point.
Now that the original principles are neatly laid out, throw them all away. Grammatically correct sentences in any language can be constructed which simultaneously violate all four, because of the processes of habituation, conventionalization, routinization, automation, fossilization and sedimentation. For example, the preposition “before” in English can allow one to construct a sentence where the subject/actor comes well after the primary action, is not close by the actor, happens after something conveyed earlier in the sentence, etc. Faulkner’s sentence structure would perhaps provide a good example of the processes which arose that allowed complex grammatical constructions. It should be noted that it appears some ancient languages were still developing the grammatical rules releasing them from bondage to the four principles of grammar as of their earliest writings (about 5,000 years ago). They often sound rather staccato, listing sequences in perfect order of their occurrence. But their relatively simple grammar yields clues as to how complex grammatical structures arise.
The story of how grammar might have arisen is one that is fraught with the nature/nurture kerfuffle. Deutscher points out that whatever happened, it had to have taken place in the context of a brain capable of learning and handling complex structures, avoiding the question of whether or not the brain was specifically or generally equipped with such architecture that would allow it to do so.
And that nothing comes from nothing. The brain didn’t just make up grammatical rules willy nilly.
Pronouns, and their shiftiness, are quite complex little pieces of the grammatical pie. Me and you are only meaningful in context and perspective, and they likely arose from the pointing words, this and that. Once these arose, the principle words in a sentence were able to carry along more subordinate clauses and thereby more meaning (for example, in the preceding sentence, ‘once these arose’, the principle words’ and ‘in a sentence’ tag along to modify and describe exactly what ‘were able’). Prepositions often arose from the erosion of verbs, for example, ‘for’ or ‘to’ in English arose to mean very much what an expansive meaning had afforded to ‘give’. For example, ‘for’ popped up to resolve the confusion resulting from ‘give’ having so many different meanings.
Deutscher labels as “property-words” those words that reveal attributes about the actor/action words that are the primary concern of the sentence. Words like ‘sharp’ in the phrase ‘the sharp stone’, or in the sentence, ‘the stone is sharp’ are property words, and Deutscher describes their usage as either high-brow or low. The low brow use of sharp is as the designator, i.e., the pointing word, for ‘the sharp stone’. The high-brow usage is the sentence ‘the stone is sharp’, which has, as philosophers might observe, a certain truthiness to it. Either the stone is sharp or it isn’t, whereas the sharp stone is only a relative matter, a stone that is sharp relative to something else—perhaps the sharpest stone in the caveman’s bag of stones, or maybe a stone that is sharper than something more blunt, like a stick.
The addition of the property-word to the sentence structure without changing its essence is an example of how grammar builds complexity. From the simple addition of the low-brow use of ‘sharp’ as a designator of which stone or which object comes the grammatical ability to appendage pretty much anything on to the part in the sentence played by ‘stone’, and it gives rise to the expansion of other appendages, like possessives, quantifiers, plural markers and articles. Subordinate clauses can be embedded in the sentence structure like a set of Russian matryoshka dolls.
Nouns are more expansive than the thing-words upon which language originally arose. Nouns encompass physical things, of course, but they also include abstract concepts, like days of the week or the soul. Verbs can express more than just action. And the two can flip categories by the simple addition or deletion of markers. In English, ‘to act’, a verb, becomes the noun ‘action’ by the addition of –ion (which also changes add to addition; it is a process applicable to a number of words). Nouns are easier to turn into verbs, sometimes requiring nothing more than context (i.e. cage and box and skin). Changing verbs into nouns is trickier. To change act into action is to make the process of completing some physical activity an abstraction that could involve any number of physical things. This process, called nominalization by linguists, is actually significantly more complex than changing nouns into verbs, and primarily relies (it is imagined, as little research has been done), on speakers mistaking an appendage that appeared to make a new noun as one that had derived the new noun from a verb. For example, ‘mari’ meant ‘husband’ in old French. It then had –age appended to it, to make the noun, ‘mari-age’, more expansively meaning the state of being in a marriage. But people incorrectly believed that the –age had been added to the ending of the verb ‘marier’, to marry, which opened up the world to making verbs out of nouns by simply adding –age.
And then the nuances arose. For instance, in Spanish, the verb ‘deber’ means that something should be done or must be done, where its original meanings revolved around possession. ‘Ought’ in English goes back to a verb meaning possess, and has the exact same origin as the verb ‘own’. Possession seems to imply obligation. And obligation markers like ‘ought’ get extended to mean likelihood or probability. ‘It ought to rain’ and ‘I ought to finish my homework’ illustrate the point. The basic trajectory of meaning in this example probably went something like this: seizing, possession, obligation, likelihood.
And now, finally, the great culmination of all these nuances, appendages, shiftiness, etc., is the ability to subsume whole clauses within another. I’d rather call it Faulknerization (another of my invented words), but Doetscher calls it subordination, but then he writes out a paragraph- length sentence for illustration. If that’s not Faulkneresque, I don’t know what would be.
Thus, to sum things up, the complexity of language could have arisen from the presence of five main ingredients:
1) a human brain capable of learning a language, drawing analogies, thinking in terms of metaphor, etc.
2) human beings wishing to communicate with each other for essentially the same purposes as motivate us today
3) words for some physical objects and simple actions
4) a few natural principles of ordering, which stem from somewhere very deep in our cognition
5) a bit of time
And that’s what we’ve had. Yet this should in no way be seen as a “just so” story of the sort so common among neo-Darwinists. This is simply a story of how complex language systems might have arisen sua sponte, without a plan or a planner, and a very plausible one at that.