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The Evolutionary Emergence of LanguageEvidence and Inference$
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Rudolf Botha and Martin Everaert

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199654840

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654840.001.0001

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Genetics, evolution, and the innateness of language

Genetics, evolution, and the innateness of language

(p.244) 13 Genetics, evolution, and the innateness of language
The Evolutionary Emergence of Language

Karl C. Diller

Rebecca L. Cann

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents a time line for the co-evolution of human language and the brain. It proceeds from the assumption that the human brain is designed for language and speech, and that the chief evidence for the evolution of the capacity for human language is evidence about the evolving brain. It suggests that the first steps for speech may have occurred 4.4 million years ago by the time of Ardipithecus ramidus, and cites evidence about the symbolic capabilities of apes in the manual/visual sphere which points to this. Evidence from neuroanatomy and genetics show that the first spoken words were used at least by the time of the emergence of genus Homo more than 2 million years ago. Homo erectus, with his great increase in brain size, was ‘on his way’ to building up a ‘decent language’ through the processes of syntactic carpentry, metaphor, and grammaticalization; where syntactic carpentry is the process by which sentences are built by a processing system without the need of Universal Grammar. The chapter also considers biological evidence showing that the earliest anatomically modern Homo sapiens some 200,000 years ago had full language capacities, fully modern languages, and a brain capable of higher cognition.

Keywords:   human language, language evolution, brain, Homo sapiens, cognition

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