Evolution of language. Humans exclusively use language, however communication is used by various species through repetitive songs, calls, or gestures. This evolutionary gap is what distinguishes humans from all other forms of life on the earth.
Evolution of Language Language is a major distinguishing feature of the human species, as well as an integral part of being human. The form of communication used by humans is much more advanced than any other species as it has evolved and developed into a system that can express infinite, unique thoughts. Humans exclusively use language, however communication is used by various species through repetitive songs, calls, or gestures. This evolutionary gap is what distinguishes humans from all other forms of life on the earth. Despite vast amounts of scientific knowledge regarding topics such as the universe, and the origins of life, we know comparatively little about the origins of our unique ability for language. Language can be seen as an evolutionary adaptation, which is basically a
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change in a process over time, experienced by a population to better survive. This ties language into the theory of natural selection, the idea being that language was created to help humans survive. However, Noam Chomsky, the world’s best-known linguist, and Jay Gould, the world’s bet-known evolutionary theorist, suggest that language may not be a product of natural selection, but a side effect of other evolutionary forces such as an increase in brain size (Pinker & Bloom, 1990). What Chomsky supports is a complex, innate, and unified language capacity that would be difficult to explain through natural selection (Jackendoff, 2004, p.85). Language was beneficial to early humans in order to help them not only survive, but to thrive. Humans needed to communicate to successfully adapt to their environment, and communication helped humans hunt, farm and survive in these often-harsh environments. As humans learned how best to survive, they developed a need to communicate to share this knowledge. This social intelligence required to be successful in an environment, required the ability to predict and influence the behaviour of others (McAndrew, 2008, p.2). Communication offered the human species a distinct and major survival advantage. An interest in gossip can possibly exist in the same league as other important preoccupations (Ibid, 2008). Robert Dunbar believes that a majority of all human conversations revolve around gossip. He theorizes that language evolved solely for the purpose of humans being able to “gossip” to one another (Dunbar, 2007). Dunbar provides concrete evidence to support his theory, but it’s hard to argue that language was developed for just this purpose. Stephen Pinker’s ideas about language evolution seem to be most reasonable, being that humans needed a way to communicate in order to negotiate, share knowledge and essentially survive. The functions of language have evolved along with humans, into various sub-functions, including gossip and social intelligence. We can apply the principles of evolution, to see how human languages change over time. This change takes place with the slow collection of mutations, where we see the separation of the world’s languages into multiple branches, from “original” or “ancestral” languages. References Dunbar, Robin. “Evolution Ep6: The Mind's Big Bang”. Youtube online video clip. April 28, 2007. Accessed Dec. 10, 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uF8_UyeW-8o Fromkin, Rodman, Hyams, “Can Chimps Learn Human Language?” Introduction to Language, custom edition, 2005. P. 389 Jackendoff, R. “Possible stages in the evolution of the language capacity” reprinted in CS212OC Course Package, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University, 2004. Pp. 85-92 Kosseff, Lauren. "Primate Use of Language." Tufts University. 13 Dec. 2011. http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/psych26/language.htm McAndrew, Frank T. “The Science of Gossip: Why We Can't Stop Ourselves.” Scientific American Mind. October, 2008. McNulty, M. “Kanzi’s Language Skills” Message posted to CS212OC Discussion Board, MLS, WLU. December 08, 2011. Pinker, S. & Bloom, P. “Natural language and natural selection” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13 Raffaele, P. “Speaking Bonobo”. Smithsonian magazine, November 2006 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/10022981.html Wynne, C. D. L (2008) “Aping Language: a skeptical analysis of the evidence for non-human primate language.” Skeptic 13: 10-14. Online at Eskeptic, Oct 31, 2007.