The evolution of language: a comparative perspective

W. Tecumseh Fitch

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780198568971
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
The evolution of language: a comparative perspective

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience



Understanding how, why, and when language evolved has become the focus of a rapidly growing interdisciplinary research effort, sometimes termed “biolinguistics.” Language does not fossilize, and the fossil record relevant to language evolution is thus exceedingly sparse and provides few dependable indicators about when or why language evolved. Two promising lines of research are an increased understanding of the neural and genetic mechanisms underlying language, and rigorous application of the comparative method. Both approaches seem destined to play a central role in any future science of biolinguistics. A key component of biolinguistics is comparative biology, in particular the explicit use of a broad comparative method. This article explores the evolution of language from a comparative perspective, focusing on the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees. It also considers hominin fossil data from Australopithecus to modern Homo, the evolution of speech, and the biology and evolution of language per se.

Keywords: Australopithecus; evolution; language; speech; biology; biolinguistics; last common ancestor; humans; chimpanzees; comparative method

Article.  13322 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience

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