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The Prehistory of Language$
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Rudolf Botha and Chris Knight

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780199545872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199545872.001.0001

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Mosaic neurobiology and anatomical plausibility *

Mosaic neurobiology and anatomical plausibility *

(p.266) 15 Mosaic neurobiology and anatomical plausibility*
The Prehistory of Language

Wendy K. Wilkins

Oxford University Press

This chapter sets out a strategy for investigating the evolutionary biology of language. Central here is the following thesis: In order to understand the emergence of linguistic capacity as an innovation in the hominid line, it is necessary to work backwards from language-relevant anatomy. The assumption is that each piece of the anatomical mosaic will have a different evolutionary story, and that each story will be more or less evident in ancestral species, depending on the availability of biological evidence in the fossil record. The use of this strategy is illustrated by discussing the evolution of Broca's area and the parietal-occipital-temporal junction (POT) plus Wernicke's area — areas of the brain that are ‘necessary, if not sufficient, for language’. It is argued that the complex comprising Broca's area and the POT was evolutionarily shaped to improve the neurological control of the hand and thumb, and became available for exaptation after the divergence of the hominid and pongid lineages. This position gains further support from recent work on primate neuroanatomy.

Keywords:   language development, language capacity, Broca's area, parietal-occipital-temporal junction, evolution, primates, evolutionary biology

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