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C O U R S E 
A Brief History of Humankind
Dr. Yuval Noah Harari, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Language of Homo Sapiens
Notes taken on August 26, 2013 by Edward Tanguay
something amazing started happening to Homo sapiens about 70,000 years ago which had to do with our language, the way we talk and think, it is our language which has made us the masters of this world
what is so special about Homo sapiens language
Homo sapiens are not the only animals with vocal communication abilities
other animals can communicate through less sophisticated sounds, or through chemicals in order to communicate information about the location of food, flowers, etc.
animal even use vocal languages, such as green monkeys
not just shouting
scientists discovered that monkeys have words or calls that have particular meanings, e.g. a call that means "careful" and when played back, the monkeys would become frightful, more aware and climb up tree
with another call, the monkeys would tend to look up, perhaps indicating some other kind of danger
whales and elephants also have vocal abilities with which they can communicate over many kilometers
parrots can make the same sounds as a human language, so whatever it is that makes humans more intelligent than parrots, it's not only the skills of vocal expression
yet Homo sapien's language is amazingly complex
it's not the number of sounds that are important, but the ability express an unlimited amount of meaning
green monkeys can say "there is a lion nearby" or "there is something flying above that is dangerous"
early Homo sapiens, however, could run back from the river and say, "there is a lion chasing a heard of bison" so that the band of humans could decide what to do: perhaps run away or perhaps go wait until the lion kills a bison, then go get the remaining bones and meat, or go hunt the bison,
the most important that was communicated was not exterior information such as where lions or bananas were to be found, but information about humans themselves
we tend to think about gossip as a bad habit, but without gossip, it is very hard to live in a large group to cooperate effectively with other people
when living in large groups, it is very important to know who hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is cheating on whom, who is honest, who is competent, who is reliable
if you are in a band of early humans, it is very beneficial for you to know who in your band while hunting lions, is likely to come to your assistance and who is likely to run away
if two people in your band start fighting among each other, you have to decide which one of them you are going to help, perhaps the strong one, or the one that has the best connections to others, and the information you have about these people, you know through gossip
the amount of information you need to know to function well in a large group is quite massive: in a band of 50 humans, there are about 1225 one-on-one relationships, plus the more complex relationships between groups of three and four
because of the limitations of their language, chimpanzees cannot gossip effectively, and so if they haven't seen it with their own eyes, they do not have important information about other members in their group
the linguistic abilities that developed in Homo sapiens around 70,000 years ago enabled them to begin gossiping about other members in their band for hours on end which gave people reliable information about who they could trust or not trust, which enabled Homo sapiens to live in larger bands as well as reduced the risk of cooperating in more sophisticated ways in larger groups
even today, the majority of human information today is gossip, about people you know, leaders, movie stars
gossip usually focuses on wrong-doings, it serves as a kind of police and the court who were breaking the norms of what they shouldn't do
50,000 years ago, if nobody wanted to be your friend or cooperate with you, you were as good as dead