The Evolution of Language
Evolution is the story of creative response to environmental challenge. The evolutionary roots of human communication include the mental models and basic behavioral language we share with all species. Language is the most flexible tool of human adaptation.
About 1.5 million years ago, Homo erectus first used pantomime to pass on understanding and experience. Mimesis is part of our genetic heritage and underlies our rituals, games, sports and dance to this day.
Cooperative communication, collective planning, community decision-making, negotiation, rules and customs—all these needs were answered with speech. And, for the first time, the group’s cohesion could be reinforced through stories and myths.
The ability to record ideas external to human memory led to art, writing, and mathematics—all of which opened the door to new ideas and new ways of thinking and made knowledge accessible to more individuals.
All humans are born with the ability to speak. But our languages are unique adaptive tools, shaped by the environment, each one influencing how we perceive time in space and how we remember events.
Nicholas Wade, The New York Times
“The peoples of India, Iran and Europe speak a Babel of tongues, but most — English included — are descended from an ancient language known as proto-Indo-European. Scholars have argued for two centuries about the identity and homeland of those who spoke this parent language, but a surprisingly sudden resolution of this longstanding issue may be at hand.”