The biological history of language is “covert”; its evolution is hidden in the series of transformations, structural and functional, that took place in the course of the formation of modern man. It is tied to the history of physiological adaptations, cognitive specializations, and sensory specifications.
＊By “uk-uk-theory”is meant all of those accounts in which the beginning of language is characterized as the discovery that the original animal evocations (such as a supposed “uk-uk”) could be used for transmitting information to other individuals.
The evolutionary process underlying language is analogous to the geometric transformations of form, described by D’Arcy Thompson, or perhaps comparable to the changes in allometric tendencies in different species. Some earlier functions seem to have been transformed to subserve communication.
Our present capacity for language may well go back to species-specific alterations in genetic material (intracellular changes) which, however, affected certain rates and directions of growth during ontogeny (temporo-spatial gradients), producing a peculiar ontogenetic phase of an optimal confluence of various abilities; thus a critical period for language acquisition might have come about. This is not just a matter of protracted infancy; during a given period various types of facilitations and inhibitions are at an optimum constellation (including something we might call, for lack of a better term, perhaps, cerebral plasticity).Therefore, the artificial retardation of a chimpanzee’s development could not bring about language capacity because it would simply slow down, that is, change the time scale of chimpanzee’s ontogeny but would not introduce the peculiar and necessary overlaps that we may assume to play a role in language acquisition.
Pedigrees and twin studies suggest that genetic transmission is relevant to language facilitation. However, there is no need to assume “genes for language.”
The biological history of language cannot be revealed through a random comparison with animal communication ; this is particularly so if the basis of comparison is pragmatic or “ logical ” and without regard to the animals’ phylogenetic relation to man. Comparison of language with animal communication beyond the order of primates is dangerous because of the phenomenon of convergence.
Reconstruction of the origin of language is impossible except for some very simple determinations. This is because of the following limitations: (1) the size and shape of the brain furnish no secure clue about the capacity for language; (2) given morphological peculiarities of the central nervous system do not bear a fixed relationship to behavior; the same cerebral feature may promote somewhat different aspects of behavior in different species, and vice versa; the relation of behavior to certain aspects of the brain may have undergone several changes during the course of evolution of modern man;(3)even if we had direct knowledge of social structure or cultural complexity of the societies of various fossil men, we could not draw conclusions about language as we know it today. Different types of communication might have prevailed at those times.
The identical capacity for language among all races suggests that this phenomenon must have existed before racial diversification.
There is nothing unbiological about recognizing language as unique behavior in the animal kingdom; such uniqueness is to be expected form the evolutionary process as well as form genetic mechanisms.
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