The Gradual Evolution of Language
Language is commonly held to be unique to humans, and to have emerged suddenly in a single “great leap forward” within the past 100,000 years. The view is profoundly anti-Darwinian, and I propose instead a framework for understanding how language might have evolved incrementally from our primate heritage. One major proposition is that language evolved from manual action, with vocalization emerging as the dominant mode late in hominin evolution. The second proposition has to do with the role of language as a means of communicating about events displaced in space and time from the present. Some have argued that mental time travel itself is unique to human, which might explain why language itself is uniquely human. I argue instead that mental time travel has ancient evolutionary origins, and gradually assumed narrative-like properties during the Pleistocene, when language itself began to take shape.
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