Biology and Philosophy 25 (5):880-888 (2010)

Fiona Cowie
California Institute of Technology
Why We Talk is a complex, ambitious, original, thought-provoking, and sometimes frustrating book. In it, Jean-Louis Dessalles argues that the critical spur to the development of human language—language’s true biological function—was political. It wasn’t political in any of the senses hitherto floated in the literature, though: language didn’t evolve because it fostered group cohesion or cooperation, or facilitated mind-reading or manipulation. Instead, language originally served more or less the same function as ritualized displays of aggression and submission in many social animals: among early Homo (maybe erectus, maybe only sapiens—p. 333), one’s gifts in the area of gab conferred status (recall Socrates’ gripes about the Sophists) and with higher status came, basically, more and better kids, both for the loquacious themselves and for anyone smart enough to ally himself with them.
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