Developing Expertise

By Mark Allen Peterson (MiamiU) Journalist Alix Spiegel’s feature story “When Did We Become Mentally Modern?” on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered in August 2010 raised a wide-ranging discussion on the Linganth listserv about the expertise of linguistic anthropologists. While a well-intentioned effort, its descriptions of language and semiotics were… simplistic—to be generous. The story claimed human language was “entirely composed of these arbitrary symbols”—even when many of the examples used were non-arbitrary indexes. Spiegel did interview an anthropologist—Dr. Allison S. Brooks of George Washington University, a respected paleoanthropologist who often contributes to debates on when homo sapiens originated.