Download paper

Why Possibly Language Evolved

Human language has no close parallels in other systems of animal communication. Yet it is an important part of the cultural adaptation that serves to make humans an exceedingly successful species. In the past 20 years, a diverse set of evolutionary scholars have tried to answer the question of how language evolved in our species and why it is unique to us. They have converged on the idea that the cultural and innate aspects of language were tightly linked in a process of gene-culture coevolution.

They differ widely about the details of the process, particularly over the division of labor between genes and culture in the coevolutionary process. Why is language restricted to humans given that communication seems to be so useful? A plausible answer is that language is part of human cooperation. Why did the coevolutionary process come to rest leaving impressive cultural diversity in human languages? A plausible answer is that language diversity functions to limit communication between people who cannot freely trust one another or where even truthful communications from others would result in maladaptive behavior on the part of listeners.


Humans are highly unusual animals in depending upon social transmission from others for acquiring most of their adaptations (Boyd & Richerson 2005, Richerson & Boyd 2005), including the specific languages they speak. Language is essential to our complex social life, revolving as it does around institutions that are transmitted by language and operated by oratory. The evolution of language as a human capacity, and of languages themselves, are subjects of a large and growing literature.

Top Experts
Verified expert
5 (339)
Allan Brooks
Verified expert
5 (893)
Bella Hamilton
Verified expert
5 (234)
hire verified expert

Many important and controversial issues are under examination including the roles of cultural and genetic evolution in the process and the role of general purpose versus language specific innate cognitive resources. Culture itself evolves by processes that are something like the evolution of genes, but which are different in many important details. In the case of language, the cultural evolutionary processes by whichlanguages change over time are tolerably well understood from the work of sociolinguists (Labov 1994, Labov 2001) and historical linguists (Deutscher 2005). The application of formal phylogenetic methods borrowed from evolutionary biology to the reconstruction of language evolution is an active area of research (Gray et al.2009, Pagel 2009). We have reasonable general models of cultural evolution (Henrich & McElreath 2008). We have good models of the coevolutionary process (Richerson & Boyd 1989, Feldman & Laland 1996). yd 1989, Feldman & Laland 1996).

The coevolutionary approach to the evolution of language was first articulated by Pinker & Bloom (1990). They imagine that the first step in the evolution of human language would be a rudimentary culturally transmitted set of signals. If having such signals were adaptively advantageous, selection might fall in genes to expand the capacity to acquire such signals. So long as a higher capacity cultural communication system was favored, cognitive modifications to more efficiently acquire explicitly linguistic features like symbolic words and grammar would be favored as the system passed some threshold of complexity. Eventually, languages with a rather large vocabulary and complex syntax and/or morphology became cognitively possible. Coevolution assumes that some relatively easy and gradual path was available such that the evolution of language could proceed from simple vocal and gestural communications to human language by some combination of small cultural and innate steps, at least after some key cognitive precursors had evolved (Origgi & Sperber 2000). See Donald (1991), Deacon (1997), Tomasello (2008), and Progovac (this volume) on how language might have evolved gradually. Conclusion

The theory of gene-culture coevolution has provided a useful framework for analyzing the evolution of language. Indeed, we are not aware of any contemporary students of language evolution who do not subscribe to some form of coevolutionary argument. Evolutionary linguists do differ about the division of labor between genes and culture that they propose. Some authors such as Tomasello (2008) and Kirby et al. (2009) posit a large role for culture in adapting language to pre-linguistic cognitive capacities or ones shared with other aspects of culture. Others, for example Pinker (2003), argue for much language specific innate cognitive adaptation. Evolutionists could contribute to this debate if it were clear what the design constraints on cognitive architecture are.

The idea that specialized cognitive architecture is highly efficient is appealing, but the relatively general heuristics like joint attention that make cultural transmission efficient are impressive as well. The detailed answer to the division of labor question is, we think, largely a matter for neurobiologists to unravel. Evolutionary considerations can provide a theory for the level of trust and cooperation necessary to make cheap, accurate, and abundant communication between humans possible and an explanation for why at least some cultural variation remains in language. In conjunction with data from paleoanthropology, paleoclimatology, and paleoecology we can produce hypotheses about when language probably evolved and why it evolved only in the human lineage. Without doubt, all of these are very difficult questions. We do not flatter ourselves that the specific proposals here will survive challenges of new data, for example data on the history of the genes that underpin language. We are more confident that the form of the coevolutionary analysis is correct.

Humans are the only species that has evolved an advanced system of communication between individuals. Whereas other species communicate through ritualized and repetitious songs, calls, or gestures, humans have developed linguistic systems that can express a literally infinite variety of separate and distinct thoughts. This incredible evolutionary leap is what distinguished humans from all other organisms on earth. The Evolution of Language

Language first appeared between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago in the species Homo sapiens. But how did language evolve? Currently, there are two rival answers to this question: the first and more common explanation is that language was an adaptation of some sort; the second (chiefly espoused by Stephen Jay Gould) is that language is a spandrel, a nonadaptive element arising as a byproduct of other processes. We will consider these explanations in reverse order. Language as a Spandrel

Some people, Stephen Jay Gould most prominent among them, believe language to be the byproduct of other evolutionary processes, not a special adaptation that arose by ordinary natural selection acting on mutations. As Gould puts it, “Natural selection made the human brain big, but most of our mental properties and potentials may be spandrels – that is, nonadaptive side consequences of building a device with such structural complexity” (The Pleasures of Pluralism , p.11). In other words, our ancestors encountered environments which required the type of advanced reasoning only provided by a larger brain; however, language capability was not one of those functions for which the brain was selected. Instead, language is a result of exapting neural structures formerly used for other functions: “Many, if not most, universal behaviors [including language] are probably spandrels, often co-opted later in human history for important secondary functions” (Ibid). This view has been reinforced by the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, who argues that the brain’s language capability cannot be explained in terms of natural selection. He attempts to explain the brain not through biology or engineering principles, but instead through the effects of physical laws. According to Chomsky, there may be unexpected emergent physical properties associated with the specific structure of the brain that explain language. Language as an Adaptation

The mainstream view is that language is an adaptation, evolved in response to some selection pressure toward improved communication between humans. This explanation is associated with many speculative possibilities and proposals for the adaptive function of language, and some (such as Steven Pinker) postulate “mental modules” that compartmentalize linguistic functions. There are many different possible “adaptationist” explanations for the evolution of language. For instance, perhaps there was a need for improved communication between hunters at some point in the history of Homo sapiens, and oral expressions were simply the optimal way to solve the problem. More plausibly (or at least more importantly), sharing information between individuals probably conferred an extremely major advantage: groups of humans with language, or even “proto-language”, could share a wealth of information about local hunting conditions, food supplies, poisonous plants, or the weather.

It would be extremely beneficial to the survival of all members of the tribe if only one had to encounter a poisonous plant, rather than each member having to rediscover the fact for himself! It is also simple to imagine a series of “oral gestures”, perhaps indicating the presence of an animal to another person by imitating the animal’s cries. Steven Pinker suggests in his book The Language Instinct, “Perhaps a set of quasi-referential calls . . . came under the voluntary control of the cerebral cortex [which controls language], and came to be produced in combination for complicated events; the ability to analyze combinations of calls was then applied to the parts of each call” (p. 352). Another possible source of selection pressure towards better linguistic abilities is the social group. Social interactions between people with widely divergent or conflicting interests “make formidable and ever-escalating demands on cognition” (Ibid, p.368). Increasing cognitive ability could easily have focused on the improvement of language as well, since so many social interactions depend on effective persuasion. Language Evolution and Memes

It is possible to imagine numerous potential scenarios by which language might have evolved as a purely biological adaptation. However, in her book The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore reveals a different theory of language evolution: she proposes that it evolved for the sake of memes, not as an adaptation for the benefit of genes. Blackmore explains that memes first came into existence with the advent of true imitation in humans, which allowed memes to spread through populations. Recalling that fecundity, or proudction of new copies, is essential to a replicator, she proposes that language came into existence as a mechanism for improving the fecundity of memes. Sound transmission has many advantages for the purpose – sounds can be heard by multiple listeners and can be used even at night. After sound transmission (proto-language) came into existence, the “digitalization” of language into discrete words arose as a mechanism for ensuring meme fidelity, or lack of errors in the new copies. She explains that those alterations that produce the most copies of the highest fidelity will be those that predominate, thus improving the language.

Blackmore goes on to suggest that grammar was an adaptation to improve the fecundity and fidelity of existing memes; its recursive structure then provided the framework for the development of more complex memes, which then favored the existence of more complex grammar, etc. in a self-sustaining process. Furthermore, language then began to exert pressure on the genes, creating a selection pressure toward bigger brains that are better at language. If people prefer to mate with those possessing the best or most memes, then the genes that allowed those people to be good meme-spreaders will be differentially transmitted into the next generation. This process again leads to a self-catalytic process of brain evolution that places a strong survival and reproductive advantage on those most capable of meme transmission. Finally, Blackmore believes that language is an unavoidable result of the existence of memes, which follow naturally from the ability to imitate (an ability that is, surprisingly, realized in very few species). She states, “verbal language is almost an inevitable result of memetic selection. First, sounds are a good candidate for high-fecundity transmission of behaviour. Second, words are an obvious way to digitise the the process and so increase its fidelity. Third, grammar is a next step for increasing fidelity and fecundity yet again, and all of these will aid memorability and hence longevity” (p.105).

Languages in India
India is very rich in languages. There are uncountable number of languages and dialects being spoken in India. A minimum of 30 different languages have been identified along with 2000 dialects. Today, due to rapid industrialization and a bustling influence of multinationals in the economy, English has become the most common language, after Hindi, being spoken in the country. Hindi is spoken by 337 million people in India. The second most spoken Indian language is Bengali, being spoken by 70 million people.

Official Languages of India
There are two languages used by the central administration of India. They are namely: * Hindi
* English
Recognized National Languages of India
There are a total of 22 languages scheduled for official use.

The emergence of human language was one of the most important developments in the rise of human civilization and culture. An understanding of evolution can explain why natural selection in favor of language took place and how the use of language presents numerous advantages to humans. Modern man exhibits a unique “wiring” pattern in his brain, a specific pattern of neurological connections that supports intelligence and volition. It was perhaps caused by an extremely recent mutation lacking in all other hominid species. Our species also has the largest brain-to-body ratio of all other hominids. Modern man was first to realize that peaceful cooperation rather than domination by force can be an efficient means of social organization. Whereas other hominids and primates must resolve any clash within their groups by means of bodily force, our species has evolved the use of language and refined it into a powerful tool of peaceful persuasion that often removes unnecessary coercion and antagonism, therefore increasing the general standard of living and degree of cooperation within a society.

Possible evolutionary reasons for the development of human language include the transmission of technical skills; complex methods such as that required for the creation of a throwing spear, need more than visual demonstration to be transmitted accurately; they require the individual communication between a mentor and a student of the given skill. Moreover, language served the role of coordinating actions between various members of a society, rendering tasks such as hunting or trade more efficient. Human beings could now communicate with one another without needing to resort to physical gestures or inferences of the other person’s intentions. As a result, there emerged a far more complex pattern of interaction that has been steadily improving as new means of quicker, more efficient, more sensible communication arose. Newer theories concerning the origins of language also see it as a mechanism for communicating information about people within a given society.

According to the scientists holding such a view, it is of evolutionary advantage for an individual to be among the first to access a given piece of information so as to be able to act on it prior to any of his competitors within the society. Thus, a widespread affinity for gossip may have prompted humans to devise a systematic means of communicating it. After the emergence of language, and especially of written communication, technological progress could take off, thereby supplanting biological evolution as the dominant influence on the development of the human species. Because of language and technology, the human species in our time changes profoundly every year, despite experiencing minuscule biological evolution.

The importance of language is essential to every aspect and interaction in our everyday lives. We use language to inform the people around us of what we feel, what we desire, and question/understand the world around us. We communicate effectively with our words, gestures, and tone of voice in a multitude of situation. Would you talk to a small child with the same words you would in a business meeting. Being able to communicate with each other, form bonds, teamwork, and it’s what separates humans from other animal species. Communication drives our lives and better ourselves. Origins of why their are so many different languages as plagued scholars and linguistics for centuries and will continue to puzzle them far beyond our lifetimes to come. In most cultures have myths that there was a common language spoke among the people with a deity getting angry and confusing the people or separating them from each other/segmenting the people to create their own language.

Prime examples of stories like this is the “Tower of Babel”, Hindu with the story of the “Knowledge Tree”, and even Native Americans believing in a “Great Deluge(Flood)” separating people and speech. The importance of communication can be often overlooked. Even with the ability to communicate with each other. Misunderstandings happen. Remember, communication is a two way street that should be embraced and not ignored. Believe it or not, some people can be arrogant to believe they can’t go to foreign countries without knowing anything of the language or culture of the people in the places they visit. The importance of language is beneficial regardless if you do it for fun or for your career or even just for personal travel. They expect the indigenous people to accommodate them and know their language. The importance of language isn’t much different no matter what your nationality is. Honestly, if you were to study other languages you will find that most of them are actually pretty similar. Mainly the differences are in alphabet, pronunciation, and grammar with the syntax generally staying the same. We should use it to show our understanding of the cultures and lives of our fellow men in other lands. We should go behind the outer shell and see the speaker beneath. Part where the importance of languages really shines in business with companies trying to reach global audiences and markets.

More and more business leaders are recognize to compete you have to have knowledge in many foreign languages. Knowledge of their language as well as their culture shows that you respect the ideas that they bring to the table and you understand their needs and wants better than somebody who does not have this background. Additionally, there is the psychological aspect of direct communication during your business transactions. Your clients will be more likely to trust what you are saying and there will be a more intimate relationship than if you were to conduct all communication through a translator. This could be an important step in building strong and lasting business relationships that help ensure the success of your own business. More and more school are recognizing the importance of language. Some schools begin offering to teach a second language as early as middle school. Many schools and employers are requiring specific language requirements as part of their application process. Through language we can connect with other people and make sense of our experiences. Imagine what it must be like for your child to develop these skills that we take for granted. As a parent, teacher, or other type of caregiver, you shape a child’s language development to reflect the identity, values, and experiences of your family and community.

Therefore, it is up to you to create a warm and comfortable environment in which your child can grow to learn the complexities of language. The communication skills that your child learns early in life will be the foundation for his or her communication abilities for the future. Strong language skills are an asset that will promote a lifetime of effective communication. I have always been interested in languages. Our language is the most important part of our being. I think it is important to learn other languages besides our own because it helps us to learn about other peoples and cultures but the most important one that we can learn is our own mother tongue as this is one of the most basic parts of our identity. If we lose our own tongue, for example, when we grow up in a country which is not our own, in my opinion, we are losing a part of ourselves.

When people express their feeling in front of other people through some mediums, it called language and the mediums are writing, speaking and reading. A Language is a body of words or a system used by common people who are of the same community, same nation, same area and same cultural. There are lots of languages that are speaking on different countries and places. There are also many languages speak in India. Some popular languages are – Hindi, Sanskrit, Kannad, Rajasthani etc. Every langue has different way of expression. Language is the human ability for acquire and use multipart systems of communication, and a language is any illustration of such a system of intricate communication. The systematic learn of communication is called language. History of Language:

All live communicate with one another, from bees and ants to whales, apes and mouth, but only humans have developed a language which is more than a set of arranged signals. Steven Roger Fischer begins wrote in his book about examination of the modes of communication used by birds, dolphins and primates as the first contexts in which the concept of language might be applied. It would definitely help you to learn history of language. Our talking even differs in a physical way from the communication of other animals. It comes from a cortical speech center which does not respond instinctively, but organizes sound and meaning on a rational basis. This section of the brain is unique to humans. Importance of Language in Culture

The importance of language is needed to every side and interface in our everyday lives. We use language to inform the people about us of what we desire, what we feel about the world. We use language everyday in many ways and to meet limitless different ends. We use spoken and non-spoken forms of language and our language is full of understated nuance that change the meaning of words. We communicate effectively with our words, gestures and tone of voice in a multitude of situations. Would you talk to in family with the same words as you would in a business meeting? Be able to communicate with each other to form bonds, teamwork, and this is what separates humans from other animal species. Communication animates our lives and bettors. Language is an extremely important to interact with people around us. We use language to let others know what we feel, what we need, and ask questions. We may change our language to each situation. For example, we talk to our small children with different words and the tone that we conduct a businessmeeting. Language is important because it is what we use to communicate. It is important to be proficient in at least our own language, especially when it comes to education and work. To communicate effectively, we send a message with words, gestures or actions which receives someone else. Communication is thus a two-way street, with the message recipient to play a role as important as the sender. Therefore, both speaking and listening are important for communication to take place.

Cite this page

Why Possibly Language Evolved. (2016, Apr 09). Retrieved from

Are You on a Short Deadline? Let a Professional Expert Help You
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7