Natural Rationality | decision-making in the economy of nature


The Evolution of Language(s)

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

A lot of recent stuff on the evolution of language (the linguistic faculty) and languages ("tongues")

There is a good article in Seed Magazine ("Science is Culture"; I like their slogan !) about recent research on the evolution of language.

Language is an innate faculty, rather than a learned behavior. This idea was the primary insight of the Chomskyan revolution that helped found the field of modern linguistics in the late 1950s, and its implications are both simple and profound. If innate, language must be genetic. It is hardwired within us from conception and evolved from structures and genes with analogues existing throughout the animal kingdom. In a sense, language is universal. Yet we humans are the only species with the ability for what may rightly be called language and, moreover, we have specific linguistic behaviors that seem to have appeared only within the past 200,000 years—an eye-blink of evolution.

Why are humans the only species to have suddenly hit upon the remarkable possibilities of language? If speech is a product of our DNA, then surely other species also have some of the same genes required for language because of our basic, shared biochemistry. One of our closest relatives should have developed something that is akin to language, or another species should have happened upon its attendant advantages through parallel evolution.

See also:
And Michael C. Corballis reviews two books on the motor origins of language here:
  • Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind. Margalit Fox. Simon and Schuster, 2007.
  • The Gestural Origin of Language. David F. Armstrong and Sherman E. Wilcox. Oxford University Press, 2007
In an older article, he explains his gestural theory of language.