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THEORY: Question about the evolution of language

From:Lars Henrik Mathiesen <thorinn@...>
Date:Monday, September 6, 1999, 10:19
> Date: Sun, 6 Jan 1980 16:19:12 -0600 > From: Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
> I've been looking on the internet for some information about the origin > of language, specifically anthropological evidence that might correlate > with language use at least obliquely. I'm talking about brain mass of > early hominids, tool use, etc. that might shed some light on the issue. > If anyone knows of any good information, I'd really appreciate any > help y'all might give.
Well, I followed the Evolution of Language mailing list for a year or two (it seems to be dead now). The question is sometimes discussed on the IndoEuropean mailing list too, you might ask for references there (it's off-topic, but you have the excuse that EvolLang is dead). Anyway, the majority opinion seems to be that 'modern' humans (i.e., Cro-Magnon and later) must have had a 'modern' language almost at once --- not in the sense that they suddenly began speaking, but that once whatever trait that finally made them capable of 'modern' language was established in the population, the slightly more primitive language that their slightly more primitive ancestors had used would quickly have developed some of the features that those ancestors couldn't cope with, through normal processes of language change. Also, the Neanderthals probably had something that we'd recognize as a human language, but opinions differ on how different it was from modern ones. Beyond that, you may be able to get a personal opinion from a researcher, but the consensus is that trying to draw conclusion about the language competence of other hominids is speculation at best, ranging to sheer crackpottery. We know how well chimps do on language and tool use; we know how well humans do; but there are no data points between those. Lars Mathiesen (U of Copenhagen CS Dep) <thorinn@...> (Humour NOT marked)