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The Evolution of Language in Three Stages [Turk J Neurol]
Turk J Neurol. 2007; 13(3): 173-188

The Evolution of Language in Three Stages

Michael Corballis
University Of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Syntactic language is a uniquely human accomplishment, and must therefore have evolved since the split of the hominins from the other great apes some six million years ago. I argue that there were three main phases. The first came about through the emergence of bipedalism, a distinctively hominin trait, which enhanced the capacity for manual communication by freeing the hands and opening a frontal stance. The second began with the emergence of the larger-brained genus Homo from around 2 million years ago. The increase in brain size may have been driven by the necessity for enhanced social cooperation, and the emergence of a more effective system for communicating propositional information. Many of the properties of language, including the use of arbitrary symbols, and the emergence of tense and other markers of time and place, may have been driven by the increased understanding of time, and the advantages gained by recording and communicating episodic events. In short, language acquired syntax. The final stage, unique to Homo sapiens, was the emergence of autonomous speech as the primary mode of communication, replacing earlier dependence on manual gesture. This may help explain the dominance of our species over other hominin species, and indeed over the planet.

Keywords: evolution, language, gestural theory, FOXP2 gene


Michael Corballis. The Evolution of Language in Three Stages. Turk J Neurol. 2007; 13(3): 173-188

Corresponding Author: Michael Corballis, New Zealand


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