The evolution of language: A comparative review [Book Review]
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
Biology and Philosophy 20 (2-3):193-203 (2005)
For many years the evolution of language has been seen as a disreputable topic, mired in fanciful “just so stories” about language origins. However, in the last decade a new synthesis of modern linguistics, cognitive neuroscience and neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory has begun to make important contributions to our understanding of the biology and evolution of language. I review some of this recent progress, focusing on the value of the comparative method, which uses data from animal species to draw inferences about language evolution. Discussing speech first, I show how data concerning a wide variety of species, from monkeys to birds, can increase our understanding of the anatomical and neural mechanisms underlying human spoken language, and how bird and whale song provide insights into the ultimate evolutionary function of language. I discuss the “descended larynx” of humans, a peculiar adaptation for speech that has received much attention in the past, which despite earlier claims is not uniquely human. Then I will turn to the neural mechanisms underlying spoken language, pointing out the difficulties animals apparently experience in perceiving hierarchical structure in sounds, and stressing the importance of vocal imitation in the evolution of a spoken language. Turning to ultimate function, I suggest that communication among kin (especially between parents and offspring) played a crucial but neglected role in driving language evolution. Finally, I briefly discuss phylogeny, discussing hypotheses that offer plausible routes to human language from a non-linguistic chimp-like ancestor. I conclude that comparative data from living animals will be key to developing a richer, more interdisciplinary understanding of our most distinctively human trait: language.
|Keywords||language evolution speech syntax semantics vocal imitation laryngeal descent sexual selection kin selection theory of mind homology|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
No references found.
Citations of this work BETA
Christina Behme (2008). Languages as Evolving Organisms – the Solution to the Logical Problem of Language Evolution? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (5):512-513.
W. Tecumseh Fitch (2008). Co-Evolution of Phylogeny and Glossogeny: There is No “Logical Problem of Language Evolution”. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31 (5):521-522.
Timothy J. Gallagher (2011). G.H. Mead's Understanding of the Nature of Speech in the Light of Contemporary Research. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 42 (1):40-62.
Similar books and articles
Wolfgang M. Schleidt (2006). Life Stages, Put in Words: Morning, Four; Noon, Two; Evening, Three? Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29 (3):297-298.
Osmo Kivinen & Tero Piiroinen (2011). On the Distinctively Human: Two Perspectives on the Evolution of Language and Conscious Mind. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 42 (1):87-105.
Bencie Woll & Jechil S. Sieratzki (1998). Echo Phonology: Signs of a Link Between Gesture and Speech. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 21 (4):531-532.
Angelo Cangelosi, Alberto Greco & Stevan Harnad (2002). Symbol Grounding and the Symbolic Theft Hypothesis. In A. Cangelosi & D. Parisi (eds.), Simulating the Evolution of Language. Springer-Verlag. 191--210.
Emmanuel Gilissen (2005). Imitation Systems, Monkey Vocalization, and the Human Language. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28 (2):133-134.
Derek Bickerton (2003). Language Evolution Without Evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 26 (6):669-670.
Steven Pinker (2005). The Nature of the Language Faculty and its Implications for Evolution of Language (Reply to Fitch, Hauser, and Chomsky). Cognition 97 (2):211-225.
Added to index2009-01-28
Total downloads108 ( #11,458 of 1,140,042 )
Recent downloads (6 months)1 ( #157,514 of 1,140,042 )
How can I increase my downloads?