The evolution of language

Birds use songs and calls, and other animals use a combination of sounds and movements to communicate. Primates have an advanced system of communication that includes vocalization, hand gestures and body language. But even primates stop short of what man has been able to achieve -- spoken language. Our ability to form a limitless number of thoughts into spoken word is one of the things that separates us from our less evolved cousins.

The evolution of language

Did talking about these early tools help our ancestors make them better? But when and why did this trait evolve? A new study concludes that the art of conversation may have arisen early in human evolution, because it made it easier for our ancestors to teach each other how to make stone tools—a skill that was crucial for the spectacular success of our lineage.

Researchers have long debated when humans starting talking to each other. Estimates range wildly, from as late as 50, years ago to as early as the beginning of the human genus more than 2 million years ago.

The evolution of language

But words leave no traces in the archaeological record. So researchers have used proxy indicators for symbolic abilities, such as early art or sophisticated toolmaking skills.

Yet these indirect approaches have The evolution of language to resolve arguments about language origins. Now, a team led by Thomas Morgan, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has attacked the problem in a very different way.

Rather than considering toolmaking as a proxy for language ability, he and his colleagues explored the way that language may help modern humans learn to make such tools.


The researchers recruited students from the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, where some members of the team were based, and organized them into five groups.

The first person in each group was taught by archaeologists how to make artifacts called Oldowan tools, which include fairly simple stone flakes that were manufactured by early humans beginning about 2.

Producing a useful flake requires hitting the core at just the right place and angle. The students in each of the five groups learned to produce Oldowan flakes in different ways.

Subjects in the first group were presented with a core, hammer, and some examples of finished flakes and told to just get on with it by themselves.

In each group, the learner became the teacher in the next round. The results of the experiment, reported online today in Nature Communications, were striking. But performance improved very little among students who just watched others make the tools.

For example, gestural teaching doubled and verbal teaching quadrupled the likelihood that a single strike would result in a viable flake, the team found. The researchers conclude that the successful spread of even the earliest known toolmaking technology, more than 2 million years ago, would have required the capacity for teaching, and probably also the beginnings of spoken language—what the researchers call protolanguage.

Many researchers think that gestural communication was the prelude to spoken language, which might explain its effectiveness in these experiments.Oldowan stone tool-making might have influenced the evolution of human language and teaching.

It's widely thought that human language evolved in universally similar ways, following trajectories common across place and culture, and possibly reflecting common linguistic structures in our. Phillip Lieberman has investigated the origin of speech for many years and has used this research to form hypotheses about the evolution of language.

Lieberman suggests that speech improved greatly about , years ago when the larynx descended into the throat. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language is in many ways a wonderful book, and its ideas deserve an airing.

Mr. Dunbar is a clear thinker and a polymath, marshaling evidence for his thesis from such varied fields as primatology, linguistics, anthropology and genetics/5(25).

"Koko, the Gorilla Who Knew Sign Language, Dies at 46", Associated Press 6/21/ Koko the gorilla who mastered sign language, raised kittens and once playfully tried on the glasses of the late actor Robin Williams, has died.

She was The Gorilla Foundation says the western lowland gorilla died. How did language begin? Written by Ray Jackendoff. What does the question mean? In asking about the origins of human language, we The basic difficulty with studying the evolution of language is that the evidence is so sparse.

Spoken languages don't leave fossils, and fossil skulls only.

Human language may have evolved to help our ancestors make tools | Science | AAAS