Genetic influences on language evolution: an evaluation of the evidence

Karl C. Diller and Rebecca L. Cann

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Genetic influences on language evolution: an evaluation of the evidence


This article concentrates on the three genes of recent interest in the literature on language origins. These genes are microcephalin and ASPM, which cause microcephaly when disabled and FOXP2, which causes a severe speech and language disability when disrupted. The FOXP2 gene was isolated, sequenced, classified as a member of the forkhead box family, and named FOXP2 by the year 2001. The protein products of forkhead genes have forkhead DNA binding domains, which bind to specified regulatory sequences in other genes, and regulate the expression of these other genes. FOXP2 is expressed in the mouse brain during development, but is also expressed in a wide variety of mouse tissues. The gene has many essential roles in mammalian development and function that are totally unrelated to language. It was announced in the year 2005 that two genes essential for proper brain growth, microcephalin and ASPM, are undergoing a change. Microcephalin and ASPM proteins are crucial for proper brain development. Microcephalin is involved in regulating the cell cycle especially in relation to DNA repair before cell division. ASPM helps to align the mitotic spindles in the cell so that it divides symmetrically. The defective versions of microcephalin and ASPM result in microcephaly, a genetic disorder in which people have small heads and small brains.

Keywords: microcephalin; ASPM; FOXP2; forkhead box family; microcephaly

Article.  3138 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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