Article published in:In Hot Pursuit of Language in Prehistory: Essays in the four fields of anthropology. In honor of Harold Crane Fleming
Edited by John D. Bengtson
[Not in series 145] 2008
► pp. 401–416
Some speculations on the evolution of language, and the language of evolution
The need for languages to be complete systems suggests that language evolution will be episodic rather than gradual, with periods of stability punctuated by periods of innovation. The example of nicaraguan sign language suggests that such developmental phases can be very rapid. Rapid evolution can create genetic bottlenecks. The differentiation between Homo sapiens and H. erectus was probably the result of a genetic bottleneck arising from the invention of language by part of the H. erectus population. This occurred in Africa, probably between 200 and 100 kyrs BP. The possession of fully complex language by every living human community suggests that it had already been developed by our H. Sapiens ancestors before they left Africa. The possession of complex language has allowed humans to participate in their own evolution in ways impossible for other animals.
Published online: 03 December 2008