Origin of language
Origin of language
The origin of language and its evolutionary emergence in the human species have been subjects of speculation for several centuries. The topic is difficult to study because of the lack of direct evidence. Consequently, scholars wishing to study the origins of language must draw inferences from other kinds of evidence such as the fossil record, archaeological evidence, contemporary language diversity, studies of language acquisition and comparisons between human language and systems of communication existing among animals (particularly other primates). Many argue that the origins of language probably relate closely to the origins of modern human behavior, but there is little agreement about the implications and directionality of this connection.
This shortage of empirical evidence has led many scholars to regard the entire topic as unsuitable for serious study. In 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris banned any existing or future debates on the subject, a prohibition which remained influential across much of the Western world until late in the twentieth century. Today, there are various hypotheses about how, why, when, and where language might have emerged. Despite this, there is scarcely more agreement today than a hundred years ago, when Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection provoked a rash of armchair speculation on the topic. Since the early 1990s, however, a number of linguists, archaeologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and others have attempted to address with new methods what some consider one of the hardest problems in science.
The "mother tongues" hypothesis was proposed in 2004 as a possible solution to this problem. W. Tecumseh Fitch suggested that the Darwinian principle of 'kin selection—the convergence of genetic interests between relatives—might be part of the answer. Fitch suggests that languages were originally 'mother tongues'. If language evolved initially for communication between mothers and their own biological offspring, extending later to include adult relatives as well, the interests of speakers and listeners would have tended to coincide. Fitch argues that shared genetic interests would have led to sufficient trust and cooperation for intrinsically unreliable signals—words—to become accepted as trustworthy and so begin evolving for the first time.
Journal of Phonetics and Audiology
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