Displays of vocal and verbal complexity: a fitness account of language, situated in development

John L. Locke

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Displays of vocal and verbal complexity: a fitness account of language, situated in development

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  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Cognitive Linguistics



This article presents several factors related to the evolution of vocal and phonetic behaviors thus discussing the emergence of symbolization and reference. Evolutionary theories must identify the environmental changes that produced phenotypic variation and the modes of selection that reinforced certain of the variants, thereby increasing reproductive success, and they must specify the developmental stages in which these actions took place. The primary task of evolutionary theorists is to identify the environmental changes, and the responses to those changes, that edged our ancestors closer to the linguistic capacity possessed by modern humans. A new paradigm, evolutionary developmental linguistics (EDL), a naturalization of human language, is concerned with the evolution of developmental properties, processes, and stages that independently, or in concert with other environmental changes, facilitated the emergence of language in the species. Modern humans have four developmental stages that include infancy, childhood, juvenility, and adolescence. Much of the linguistically relevant phenotypic variation originated in ancestral infancies, with selection by parents occurring in this stage, and, with persistence of selected behaviors, in later stages by peers and others. Juvenility provides additional time for the brain growth and learning required for reproductive success in various species of mammals. The modification of juvenility would naturally increase phenotypic variability and offer new bases for selection at a time when greater independence and sexual maturity were rapidly approaching.

Keywords: phonetic behavior; symbolization; evolutionary developmental linguistics; childhood; juvenility

Article.  4569 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Cognitive Linguistics

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