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Psychology of Language - Why is Man the Only Animal to Have Evolved Language?

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Introduction

Psychology of Language-3COG 308 Why is Man the Only Animal to Have Evolved Language? This essay looks at possible reasons why man seems to be the only animal to have evolved language. Although animals can communicate, there is no species within which a system comparable to human language can be found. There is a lot that is unclear about the origins & the evolution of language, which makes it more difficult to understand why humans have this capacity & animals do not. The faculty for language must have come about when Homo sapiens was differentiated from other species, this in itself, offers a clue, humans followed a separate line of development, one that is not shared by other species. If the first indication of a proto-language facility occurred at this time, then there could have been around 350, 000 generations from then, until now for language to develop into what it is now, (Pinker, 1994), & as the other primates followed a completely separate evolutionary path, there is no reason for them to have developed language. ...read more.

Middle

Animals lack this ability of combining complex motor skills with mental constructions into intelligible sounds that convey meaning. Mental construction is seen as a general ability that is common to those with higher intellectual functions & controlled by interrelated parts of the brain, & although there is evidence that the great apes possess some cognitive & motor facilities that are similar to humans there is evidence for humans developing & improving their mental constructional skills from 1.5 million years ago in a way that the great apes didn't. Although many animals do have a quite varied collection of sounds used for communication they lack grammar. It is argued by some that grammar came about through Darwinian natural selection, (Pinker & Bloom, 1990) but another explanation presented is that grammar was a consequence of other developments like increased brain size, (Chomsky, 1968). This increase in brain size has given humans abilities that are far beyond those of animals, & have enabled the development of the complex brain structures necessary for language to evolve. Even the largest primates have a much smaller brain size than humans & although they do have quite complex social organisation & communication systems they simply don't have the processing power needed for language to develop. ...read more.

Conclusion

Being able to rapidly communicate detailed information could have given an advantage to those using this code, leading to a better chance of survival. Another part of Knights theory holds that whereas primates don't collectively deceive, humans do, as part of setting up group identity, therefore primate resistance to deception impedes the emergence of the features of speech. Pretend play is vital to the development of the cognitive skills necessary for distinguishing surface from deeper meaning, the concept of co-operative pretend play is essential to the current understanding of how children acquire speech. Although animals do use social displays as a form of communication, these lack the complexity of human social displays, & although chimps play, there is no collective sharing of what is imagined & they do not indulge in pretend-play, maybe because their understanding of the world is limited to only what is relevant to them, unlike humans they lack the facility of creativity & abstraction. Possibly human displays became so time consuming that the development of a 'code' to convey information evolved out of necessity as human awareness extended to encompass greater, more complex ideas. This greater awareness & comprehension of complex concepts also becoming possible through the larger brain size & higher processing ability that was also evolving. ...read more.

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