Which way to the dawn of speech?: Reanalyzing half a century of debates and data in light of speech science
Louis-Jean Boë et al.
Science advances, 2019
Recent articles on primate articulatory abilities are revolutionary regarding speech emergence, a crucial aspect of language evolution, by revealing a human-like system of proto-vowels in nonhuman primates and implicitly throughout our hominid ancestry. This article presents both a schematic history and the state of the art in primate vocalization research and its importance for speech emergence. Recent speech research advances allow more incisive comparison of phylogeny and ontogeny and also an illuminating reinterpretation of vintage primate vocalization data. This review produces three major findings. First, even among primates, laryngeal descent is not uniquely human. Second, laryngeal descent is not required to produce contrasting formant patterns in vocalizations. Third, living nonhuman primates produce vocalizations with contrasting formant patterns. Thus, evidence now overwhelmingly refutes the long-standing laryngeal descent theory, which pushes back “the dawn of speech” beyond ~200 ka ago to over ~20 Ma ago, a difference of two orders of magnitude.
The evolution of language
Michael C. Corbalis
APA handbook of comparative psychology: Basic concepts, methods, neural substrate, and behavior (p. 273–297), 2017
It has been suggested that the evolution of language might be “the hardest problem in science” (Christiansen & Kirby, 2003, p. 1). Part of the difficulty is that language has long been considered uniquely human, suggesting some miraculous intervention rather than the outcome of natural biological processes. In religious doctrine, language was a divine gift, placing us closer to angels than to apes, a view accepted by philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and John Locke (1632–1704). René Descartes (1596–1750) famously argued that the open-ended nature of language was the surest proof that humans are capable of free will, implying divine intervention, whereas other species were mere machines whose actions simply obeyed the laws of mechanics. In a 1646 letter to the Marquess of Newcastle, he wrote that “none of our external actions can show anyone who examines them that our body is not just a self-moving machine but contains a soul with thoughts, with the exception of words” ( Descartes, 1646/1970, p. 206). This view of language as special and unique was challenged, albeit indirectly, with the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859. Such was the consternation that in 1862 the Linguistic Society of Paris banned all discussion of the origins of language, and the Philological Society of London followed suit in 1872. The effect of this ban seems to have persisted until well into the 20th century. Although there had been sporadic efforts to explain language in terms of natural selection late in the 20th century (e.g., Hewes et al., 1973; Pinker & Bloom, 1990), a critical turning point may have been the establishment of a continuing series of biennial conferences on the evolution of language, the first of which was held in 1996 (Hurford, Studdert- Kennedy, & Knight, 1998). The third was held, fittingly, in Paris in 2000 (Wray, 2002). The intense revival of interest has led to a proliferation of theories, to the extent that one might be tempted to call for a reinstatement of the ban. In this chapter, though, I contrast two views of language evolution that effectively maintain the division between the view that language evolved uniquely and abruptly in humans, and the Darwinian notion that language, like any complex trait, must have evolved incrementally through natural selection
The evolution of stories: from mimesis to language, from fact to fiction
Wires cognitive science, 2017
Once the strong existing predisposition to play combined with existing capacities for event comprehension, memory, imagination, language, and narrative, we could begin to invent fiction, and to explore the full range of human possibilities in concentrated, engaging, memorable forms. First language, then narrative, then fiction, created niches that altered selection pressures, and made us ever more deeply dependent on knowing more about our kind and our risks and opportunities than we could discover through direct experience.
The Social Trackways Theory of the Evolution of Language
La « descente du larynx » revisitée : implication pour la phylogenèse
Captier et al.
Il y a bien eu une descente du larynx au cours de la phylogenèse : l’augmentation de la portion pharyngale du conduit vocal s’est faite par une dissociation verticale avec désemboîtement de l’os hyoïde, mais avec une préservation de la position de l’os hyoïde. Ceci confère à la base de la langue une configuration proche de celle de l’Homme. La déglutition a ainsi été préservée. Par ailleurs, on observe un potentiel de production similaire pour les gestes de parole chez l’Homme et les vocalisations chez le babouin. Ceci corrobore l’hypothèse que la parole a pu évoluer par exaptation de la fonction de déglutition.