Via Flipboard I read an article “Why we speak” from Mark Pagel writing for the The Atlantic on the crucial role of language in our ability to trade. It offers similar reasoning as I had when I started out my endeavor to unravel the way we collaborate.

My starting point was human specialization but it boils down to pretty much the same kind of perspective about the foundations of our societies, the dynamics and complexities, its historic development and maybe even its future coarse. My core thesis on collaborability is that the ability to collaborate is the essential characteristic of our human species (“Homo Sapiens”) and core to our success and the complexity of our society. I have been referring to Homo Collaborans (“the collaborating man”) in this regard.

Mark Pagel touches four, what I call, collaboration mechanisms: namely specialization – and as a consequence – markets, trust and language. These mechanisms are a central part of the collaborability model. (See picture above) He gravitates around “language” and its importance for “trade”. Specialization and trust are mentioned.

But once you start thinking about this type of subjects you need to be able to include a much wider range of elements necessary to understand the evolution and dynamics of the development of our ability to collaborate even if you narrow it down to Trade.

See for an introduction in the Collaborability Model my landing page. Also I have posted a “Sneak Peak” blog on the methodology of my approach but most notably how I see something more fundamental then the emergence of markets as proposed by Hicks namely our ability to collaborate.

My approach was akin Hicks, the Nobel prize winner for economics on his work on the role of markets: I would offer a theory and then it is up to others to seek historic foundation. May be this is why I like the approach of Mark Pagel: it argues – even though only covering 4 of the elements out of many – along the same lines and it offers a nice way to understand language in its capacity of a collaboration mechanism, or as Mark calls it a “social technology”.

The article it self “Why We Speak” form Mark Pagel is concise and pleasant to read. I have picked out some quotes:

  • Humans’ economic transactions … go beyond every other species’: No other animal does it.
  • The reason might be that even the simplest of exchanges requires a sophisticated set of rules and understandings: How can I trust you to give me something of equal value for my shells? How do I know you won’t steal my goods and just run off? And how do we ever agree in the first place on the worth of our respective items?
  • As we are the only species to have complex systems of trade and exchange, we are also the only species that has language, and it might just have its origins in our earliest economic behaviors.
  • Language is so specialized and trade is so advantageous that there is reason to believe natural selection zeroed in on speech as a handy adaptation.
  • Language as a piece of social technology, developed for managing the demands of the sophisticated social lives based on trade and specialization that our species was evolving
  • All animals communicate, whether it be via grunts, whistles, barks, chest thumps, bleats, odors, colors, chemical signals, chirrups, or roars. Human language, on the other hand, is compositional: We alone communicate in sentences composed of discrete words that take the roles of subjects, verbs, and objects:
  • Language is so important for economic activity
  • Language can trumpet our skills and reputations far beyond those who actually know us, widening the scope and complexity of trade.
  • As soon as the psychological machinery that allows trade became available, people would have been able to specialize in the tasks they were best at and then trade their goods or services for things they were less good at doing or making— just as in our hypothetical example above. Such specialization makes the group more efficient than when everyone undertakes or attempts every activity.
  • For other animals, who don’t engage in trade or the coordination of their activities, and who all do more or less the same things all day long, there isn’t really much to talk about—at least, there isn’t much more to talk about than their forms of communication already allow. As a result, natural selection never created in them the expensive apparatus we possess for using language. It simply wasn’t needed.

Even though it all sounds plausible it all remains based on speculation. Even though Mark Pagel himself says:

“So, here we have not just a plausible explanation for language but a probable one.”