There are THOUSANDS of different languages and dialects in India alone. Embedded in each one, like a skeleton, is our common inventory of things we need to discuss. In a shared language we conduct our business with a speed and dexterity that is only possible when we can take meanings for granted. Without a shared language, the conversation becomes like archeology, we painstakingly dig out meanings from our common inventories of human stuff and clarify them with pointing and miming. It can be exhausting and still leave us with ambiguous, tentative conclusions.
In that situation, we have a minimal, shared global language for taking care of existential business without words. Like dogs and cats, we have symbolic body language communicating all sorts of things about how we feel. There are global facial expressions, gestures, and vocal tones indicating things like I am harmless, friendly, afraid, confused, sick, etc. These are universal enough that we can read each other pretty easily about simple things without a spoken language in common. *
When we are limited like this, to body language, gesture, and tone of voice, our communication isn’t truly human, it’s mammalian. In this predicament, we act out the theoretical question: What would humans be like without language? The answer is we would not really be human.
Each of us carries a vast, innate catalog of concepts without innate names. The names are assigned within each local language. This catalog includes the deep, complex structures that Carl Jung called the collective unconscious but also more fragmentary conceptual “Lego blocks” for building our interactions. These are innate memes, they are the currency funding the economy of interaction. I sometimes think of this catalog in its complete form as “The Human Meme-ome” (like the human genome). It is our toy box of understandable, connectable, rearrangeable meanings.
It is the “geological layer” underneath language. It is the substrate of our uniquely abstract reality. The bedrock of our existence is conceptual and cooperative.
These foundations have to exist …or WE don’t exist. These foundation traits didn’t trickle into existence via random mutations over inconceivable time. Incrementally they would be pointless distractions from the business of survival. Why would such fragments be passed forward? The geological layer of meaning only functions when combined with language and language only functions when it grows from meaning. Either is a one-faced coin alone.
Humanity didn’t muddle along somehow without this system. It’s the reverse, Homo Sapiens appeared when this system manifested: At that moment.
The underlying gameboard and pieces of the collective unconscious are real and universal. Everything about our story drunken lives confirms their presence. This means we have to acknowledge that templates of kings, wizards, and monsters are literally inherited as truly as hair color.
-* We even seem to have a few innate meaning sounds, such as babies worldwide saying something much like “mama” when they need attention.