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Chapter 23. Language and Evolution


Subject Philosophy » Philosophy of Science

Key-Topics biological, evolution, language, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405125727.2008.00025.x


Almost all, if not all, species communicate in one form or another. Humans communicate perhaps more than any other species. Although their communications are immensely more complex than those of any other species, and convey an infinitely greater quantity of information, it has seemed to many that human language must have developed out of the communication systems of antecedent species. After all, we evolved as a single species of the primate family, and evolution is normally a gradual process, building on what is already there rather than creating novelties. One might well conclude that human language, different though it might seem from the communication systems of other species, developed out of them by a series of infinitesimal increments, the intermediate forms having been, unfortunately, lost. However natural such an assumption might appear, there is strong evidence against it. For instance, such basic attributes of language as predication, symbolization, and displacement (the ability to refer to objects and events not physically present) are absent in animal communication systems (ACSs). Further, it is sometimes claimed that the multi-layered nature of modern human language argues against any continuity with ACSs: the basic building blocks of language are phonemes (units of sound meaningless in themselves), which are combined to form morphemes (the smallest meaningful units), ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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