"suitably updated, [it] provides a compelling fit to both the phenomenology of modern music and language, and to a wealth of comparative data. "He further argues that:
"This year of Charles Darwin's 200th birthday seems an opportune time for Darwin' own model of language evolution to regain the prominence it deserves."In the second post, Derek Bickerton comments on Fitch's essay and critices his verdict that
"Darwin's view of language was ahead of its time, and his model and arguments remain surprisingly relevant."Instead, he argues, although Darwin got a lot of things right,
In regards to the speculations on the evolution of language, Darwin's lack of knowledge about the ancestral environments of pre-humans ist the graves limitation.
"in many cases he was, inevitably, limited by the state of knowledge in his time."
In a savanna environment in which much of homo evolution supposedly took place, a musical, singing way of communication would simply be bizarre and even extremely dangerous because it would attract predators.
This is a problem Bickerton sees with a lot of theories of language evoltion. For example, he also critized the lack of regard for the environmental context of language evolution in a review of James Hurford's fantastic book, "The Origins of Meaning:"
"Hurford gives a favorable mention to niche construction theory, and I kept hoping he was going to draw the conclusion I drew from it: that the key to the origin of language must be sought somewhere among the niches constructed by human ancestors between the date of the last common ancestor of humans and other apes and the present—niches very different from any occupied by other apes. But he did not."For Bickerton, Darwin, unknowingly, and Fitch, unwittingly, have made the same mistake:
"The notion of a terrestrial and heavily-predated primate indulging in any form of vocal activity-especially one that must, in quantity as well as quality, have exceeded those of all other primates barring gibbons-is simply bizarre,."
Both posts make for very interesting reading and I'm looking forward to the publication of both Bickerton's "Adam's Tongue" (out next month) and Fitch's book "The Evolution of Language" which apparently is in press as well.
Update: W. Tecumseh Fitch has replied to Bickerton's criticism with a post with the entertaining title ""Silence on the Savannah!" On Bickerton's Yodeling Australopithecines and Missing the Point of Musical Protolanguage"