Introduction to Part II: The biology of language evolution: anatomy, genetics and neurology

Kathleen R. Gibson and Maggie Tallerman

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Introduction to Part II: The biology of language evolution: anatomy, genetics and neurology

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This article focuses on the evolution of language along with its anatomy, genetics, and neurology. The concepts of instinct and innateness are actually quite useful for describing behaviors that routinely characterize all members of species or at least all species members of specific sex and age classes. Thus, they tend to be favored by scientists with a primary focus on the distinctive behaviors of individual species. To many developmental biologists and developmental psychologists, however, instinct and innateness are fallacious concepts because all behaviors develop through gene-environment interactions. The solution to this dilemma, in Fitch's view, is to abandon the terms “instinct” and “learning” in favor of other terms that more accurately describe the phenomena in question, such as “species-specific” or “species-typical” to describe behaviors routinely displayed by all members of a species, and “canalization” to explain the species-typical gene-environment interactions that produce behavioral regularities. From this perspective, language is a species-specific human behavior that is developmentally canalized via interactions of genes and predictable environmental impacts such as typical adult-infant interactions. In sum, evidence indicates that language evolution probably demanded changes in multiple interacting genes and involved expansions in multiple parts of the brain, as well as changes in the vocal tract and thoracic spinal cord.

Keywords: innateness; evolution of language; gene-environment interactions; canalization; species-specific behaviors

Article.  3938 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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