Resources for Communication Problems

Monday, January 14, 2008





(2) Arguments Based on Other Skeletal Features

Most relevant here are the shape of the jaws and oral cavity, the suspension of the tongue, and the shape and mechanisms of pharynx and larynx. Unfortunately, with the exception of the first two items, these structures are not preserved in the fossils, and the reconstructions are so speculative that they need not be considered here. The mandible , with its absence or presence of a chin and the shape of the denture surely has an influence on the acoustic production of sounds. But all we may deduce from this evidence is that the vocalizations of fossil men did not bear any close acoustic resemblance to the speech sounds of any modern tongue. But we may not dismiss the possibility that the early vocalizations might already have had ethological or biological characteristics that foreshadowed modern languages in some way. None of the language aspects discussed throughout this book can be reconstructed from the palaeontological findings.

(3) Racial Diversification and the Emergence of Language

All races appear to have the same biological potential for the development of culture and the acquisition of language. Thus we must assume that the evolutionary events favoring culture and language go back to the age of language is no less than say 30.000 to 50.000 years. Credence is lent to this hypothesis not only on the grounds of racial evidence; the cultures associated with the fossils of this period give evidence of the development of a symbolic medium other than language; graphic representation. The cave drawings of that time are extremely skillful and, what is more important , they are highly stylized and, in a sense, abstract. Thus it is likely that the cognitive processes of Cro-Magnon had a number of characteristics in common with modern man.


The possibility that language is of much older age is not precluded. One authority (Coon, 1962), has advanced the hypothesis that the races have individual ancestries that go back as far as Australopithecus. Mayr (1962) has pointed out that this thesis is far from substantiated but also not entirely impossible. If this were so, language or its prerequisites could have been present as long as half a million years ago. Another theoretical possibility is that the biological matrix for language is of great age but that earliest fossil-man did not yet ”utilize” it fully. This brings to mind Waddington´s epigenetic landscape (Fig. 6.10) representing the notion of canalization. The evolutionary trend might have entered a particular groove which canalized the subsequent developments and thus made language the necessary outcome, owing to a peculiar evolutionary antecedent.

We see that consideration of modern races sets a time at which we might reasonably assume language to have been in existence. But it does not enable us to carry the dating of its emergence any further.

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