where did language come from? [ENG/ESP/JP SUB]


where did language come from? scientists believe it emerged possibly 100 to 120 thousand years ago however language itself doesn’t fossilize. in fact in 1866 the linguistic society of Paris briefly banned all debates on the origins of human language due to lack of direct empirical evidence. now scientists take different approaches using archaeological and genetic evidence, research in linguistics and more to address the question on the origins of language. for example archaeological items from 60 to 100 thousand years ago and maybe even earlier, demonstrate the developed human mind such as refined tools, carved and painted art, and sophisticated weapons. it is hypothesized that language correlates with these developments; they are certainly in the same time scale. another piece of evidence for when language emerged is the discovery of ochres with notches dating back to 75 to 100 thousand years ago in the Blombos cave south africa. scholars have argued that these ochres represent early abstract or symbolic thinking necessary for language these are some examples of why scientists believe language possibly emerged before 100 thousand years ago. but something doesn’t make sense. the two regions responsible for language in the brain, the Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, have developed in our ancestors over a million years ago, long before the emergence of language. this leads to the question: why did only humans develop language, and how did it happen? there are many hypotheses that attempt to explain this generally falling into two categories: gradual and rapid emergence. the first is that human language arose gradually through the development of language precursors or proto-languages. for example, a lexical proto-language would be simply saying words with no grammar or syntax. In contrast with gradual emergence, the second category proposes a Rapid emergence of human language. for example a single genetic mutation a hundred thousand years ago that led to the rise of language. there is no consensus yet on the origins of human language and there is no shortage of hypotheses. the gestural hypothesis was developed from the observation that primates can gesture, for example, gorillas beating their chests and this intrinsic gestural system in primates developed to allow for language. the vocalization hypothesis says that language arose from a small set of instinctive calls also found in primates. the mother tongue hypothesis proposes that language evolved from conditions of mutual trust and affection and mother child interactions. on the other hand, Darwin proposed that language may have developed from songs, writing that the sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language. Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics at MIT, believes Darwin was only partially right. Miyagawa and colleagues recently proposed that human language is made up of two independent systems: expression or E system, and lexical or L system. these two systems, the E & L systems, developed gradually in birds and primates respectively and uniquely integrated in humans, allowing for the rapid emergence of human language. to explain the expression and lexical systems, let’s look at an example sentence: did you eat pizza? “you”, “eat”, and “pizza” are the lexical components, which often refer to something in the real world. in nature the vervet monkey uses an L system for communication, different alarm calls to represent different threats: eagle, snake and leopard. on the other hand the expression layer represents the intention of the speaker. in the example sentence, the word “did” is a member of the expression system changing the entire sentence to an interrogative pattern showing the speaker’s intention to ask a question. in nature bird song is an example of E system for communication. the nightingale for example can sing up to 200 different songs although these songs are arbitrary, for a male nightingale, singing corresponds with intention such as mating and territoriality and thus exemplify the expressive system in nature. to summarize Miyagawa and colleagues proposed that E & L systems develop independently in nature and this unique integration to humans gave rise to language. this is the Integration Hypothesis. keep in mind that this is just one of many proposed explanations in the ongoing debate on the origin of language. so, did language emerged gradually or suddenly? the integration hypothesis proposes both: the gradual development of two independent systems and a unique integration of these systems to allow for language as we see it today. and that’s it. thanks for watching!

5 Replies to “where did language come from? [ENG/ESP/JP SUB]

  1. Which category does X – bar theory and Noam Chomsky and generative theories fall into, gradual emergence or rapid emergence? I may be thinking about this wrong as those are about explaining not the very beginning of language but it's development from similar roots across languages.

  2. Thank you Jessica Sun. Very well done video!

    Perhaps humans evolved from birds & mammals, which is why we seem so different than any other animal on the planet.

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