By James McDonald
Humans is ainimals like ony ither in that we eat, sleep, muive about an dae the auld hochmagandie. But, at the same time, we arenae the same as ither ainimals, pairtly acause we are the anerly species that can unnerstaund whit A’m scrievin. We are the anerly species that haes gane fae bein an endangert species in an East African glen tae bein the anerly species tae bide on thairsels on aw the continents; the last ane, Antarctica, designtly, an it isnae even acause it haes onything tae eat on it. An we’re the anerly species tae transmogrify the face o a feck o the globe. An even the anerly species tae send itsel an its companions intae space. Hou is that humans did that an no ony ither species? Whit gars us homo sapiens sae sonsie?
A few thochts tae stert wi wad be weel-kent phýsical attributes includin strang opposable thumbs an a muckler brain. A muckler brain wad seem a help, inspecially confeerance wi ither primates, but wir brains haes scrinkit ’ithin the past twinty thousand year.
As for opposable thumbs, there is a few definítions o whit that constitutes but thay aw involve bringin yer thumb the conter side o yer ither fingers. It is a potential aspect o human beins that expleens hou we got sae sonsie. It’s wi opposable thumbs that we can mak aw wir technology. This capacity can be found in ither primates an aw: aw the great apes, mony lesser apes; even Auld Warld monkeys like the macaques.
An it isnae even restrictit tae primates aither, even gif the ither tetrapods wi sic haudin haunds dinnae uise thaim sae weel as primates: pandas, opossums, koalas an some tree puddocks like the waxy monkey leaf frog hae the same distinctive gresp that we associate wi wir ain species. But human opposable thumbs is obviously the best anes acause thay’re mair advanced acause the thumb is faurer fae the ither fingers an can turn aw the wey round on the ithers.
The technology we uise wir opposable thumbs for tae create isnae specífic tae humans itsel, aither: while the technology o humans is och that bit mair spectacular, ither ainimals can uise technology an aw. Ither mammals, inspecially primates, an birds (inspecially craws) an octopuses is amang the ainimals that can uise technology. Housomiver, there is major differs acqueesh human technology an maist ither ainimal technology in that humans fashion thair ain, an wir technology is perqueer an ever-chyngin.
The ever-chyngin naitur o human technolgoy is due tae wir creatívity. Creatívity is a new-fangle o the Homo genus, wirsels an wir naurmaist forbears. Humans is that innovative that, fae aichty thousand year syne on, chynge haes become ordinar in humans. Creatívity is connectit wi adaptabílity an humans is maistlike the maist adaptable species, capable o bidin in mony different environments atour the warld, pairtly due tae wir ingenious development o technology. We can even gang intae caulder environments nor whit wir Neanderthal cousins war uised wi, an thay war uised wi the geal. This new-fangle an creatívity can be seen in airt, whilk can anerly be conclusively seen in humans.
Airt isnae the anerly cultural activíty that appluises the naitur o humanity: cultur itsel is anither thing that could be seen as specífic tae humans. It haes been uphauden that Japanese macaques haes cultur: lair an pratticks passt doun throu the generations. Resairchers commune yet anent whither thir behaviours is cultural or no.
A major aspect o human cultur is leids. Language is wir creative cultural capacity for communication. A say it’s creative acause wirds can be uised in new-fangelt weys thereby expandin the realm o the leid; ainimal noises cannae be uised in new-fangelt weys like the noises o us humans can. An the cultural aspect o leids is partícular important acause humans haes different leids dependin on the kintra, or whiles even the clachan. This is in contrast tae ither ainimals wha aften haes the same caw ower several continents. This cultural an linguistic diversity is therefore pairt o wir skeels specífic tae wir species an something tae uphaud.
Anither contrast we can mak wi ither species is that thay can communicate but no in a abstract mainer. Wirds itsel is specífically human: the wey we structure wir communication intae discrete units isnae something we can see in ither inhabitants o the planet Yird. Polysemy is a notably human characteristic, as is uisin different sounds ’ithout waitin on a stimulus for thaim. The wey we pit sentences thegither uisin the wirds is unique an aw: we can produce a infinite nummer o utterances, unalike ither ainimals that haes a fixed set o cries.
Anither human characteristic that isnae found in ither species is the wey fowk spik specífically for tae spik; it isnae juist a rackless eftercome o anither behaviour. This means that this is a central aspect o wir behaviour; it isnae juist a wee extra on the tap. We communicate for tae communicate.
The meanin o wirds isnae relatit tae the form. This can be seen in some bird caws an aw, but birds lack ither chairactertistics o human language, like productivity. Likewise, whan bees dance, thay shaw that thay communicate anent events that isnae thare.
Wir leids is uised for tae interact in society an we humans is gey an sociable. Wir sociabílity is ane o the vicks that distinguishes us fae wir naur relatives, the Neanderthals. An it enables divíson o labour, something that allous fowk tae focus on specífic tasks, preferably tasks that we’re better at an we’re greeshochie about.
The foresaid social skeels includes cooperation an skarin, naitural human skeels that even bairns daes. Whit we skare isnae juist objects, but thochts an aw, enablin thochts tae spreid fae ae body tae anither. Anither o the social skeels that distinguishes us is wir cognitive empathy, the abílity tae unnerstaund whit ither fowk is thinkin, is forby specífic tae humanity, an fair helpfu for haein meaninfu interactions.
A wad hypothesise that, for tae empathise wi ithers, we wad need tae uise abstract thocht. Abstract thocht, thinkin on things that isnae here the nou, is a important aspect o the human essence, that distinguishes us fae wir primate maiks. This can be linkit wi language in that wirds is specífically human, but abstract wirds like ‘freedom’ an ‘equality’ is even faurer remuived fae the capacities o ither ainimals. There is different degrees o abstraction an aw: dates seem abstract for a bairn, but quantum phýsics is even mair abstract.
This abstract thinkin is manifest in the wey we can think aheid o time an back in time. Baith reminiscin an imaiginin is ane o the maist fundamental human vicks. An the connection acqueesh wir thinkin anent the futur an anent the past is stranger nor we realise acause we big wir ideas anent the futur wi wir mindins o the past. We uise mair or less the same pairts o the brain for thinkin anent the past as for the futur an, gif we forget wir mindins, we lose wir capacity tae imaigine wir futur an aw. An, imperfect as human memory is, humans haes a spectacular memory ower a lifetime whan compared wi ither ainimals. This gies us a richt guid advantage ower ither species acause we can plan for the futur an be better prepared for it.
Sae Jock Tamson’s bairns is bairns that spik leids, an sicweys we communicate in multiple iver-chyngin new-fangelt abstract weys. In the communication sýstems, we can descrive no juist whit we see, whit we hae seen an whit we will see, but even things that we could niver ken even gif thay could exist. An aw the vicks can be seen in the behaviour o wir species in ither weys an aw. Jock Tamson’s bairns wirks thegither, cooperatin an skarin mair nor ony ither species on the Yird. We are forby creative an innovative, wir society chyngin ilka day acause o wir ain thochts. Abstract thocht, thinkin anent the futur an the past, is forby a vick that gars us humans a lanerly species, as is wir capacity for adaption. Leids is tharefore the kythin o several o humanity’s heichmaist capacities. Sae lat’s haud on bein the cooperative, creative-thinkin, adaptive ainimals we are.
James McDonald is a Scots polyglot steyin in Réunion. He is keen on different leids, inspecially local leids, an thair forderin, whether it’s Scots, Gaelic, Réunion Creole or ither leids. He wirks in schuils, helpin bairns wi thair hamewirk an giein chess lessons. Ye can contact him on jmcd89 [AT] googlemail [DOT] com.
A I; acqueesh between; anent about; anerly only; appluises makes available to; atour all over; big build; caw call; clachan village; confeerance wi in comparison with; descrive describe; designtly deliberately; eftercome effect; feck large proportion; gars makes; geal extreme coldness; gif if; greeshochie enthusiastic; haud on carry on; hochmagandie fornication; housomiver nevertheless; kythin manifestation; lair learning, knowledge; lanerly exceptional, unique; leid language; maiks relatives; mindins recollections, memories; perqueer skilfully made; pratticks habits, customs; rackless accidental; scrinkit shrunken, shrivelled; sicweys thus; skarin sharing; sonsie successful; vicks traits; whiles sometimes; Yird Earth
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