Edmund Blair Bolles has posted some entries about the proceedings at a protolanguage conference. There’s much of interest there, but I’ll give a provocative quote from his summation:
It seems to me that the work of the protolanguage concept may be done and it is time to put the term aside. It was useful for hammering the big-bang theory of language leaping full-blown from the head of some recent Homo sapiens, but now protolanguage is beginning to look a bit anti-evolutionary itself. Prototypes are early versions that set the standards for later ones, but the concept of a type is Platonic rather than Darwinian. Protolanguages were not early versions of what weve got today, they were their own thing, evolved to serve the purposes of their day.
Earlier in the week, he also posted on a presentation by Terrence Deacon and a cool presentation on “protolinguistic fossils” by Ljiljana Progovac, which seemed to give a different view of the concept from the essentially pidgin language hypothesis of Derek Bickerton.
UPDATE (2009-09-29): Derek Bickerton wrote to take issue with my last sentence; in his opinion the talks cited here describe a protolanguage bounded by the same essential conditions as his own ideas. I post Bickerton’s record in full in the mailbag and a few additional words of reply.