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The Speciation of Modern Homo Sapiens$
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T. J. Crow

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780197263112

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197263112.001.0001

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From Protolanguage to Language

From Protolanguage to Language

(p.102) (p.103) From Protolanguage to Language
The Speciation of Modern Homo Sapiens

Derek Bickerton

British Academy

This chapter discusses the singularity of human language. Although evolution is normally conceived of as a gradual process, it can produce an appearance of catastrophism where functions change or where gradual changes in two or more components impinge on one another. The fossil and archaeological records argue strongly for some such development in the case of human language. The discussion argues that language as people know it requires the conjunction of three things: an event structure derived from reciprocal altruism; the capacity to use unstructured symbolic units (protolanguage); and sufficient ‘spare’ neurones to maintain the coherence of internally generated messages in brains designed by evolution to attend primarily to the environment. These developments co-occurred only in the human species, accounting for the uniqueness of human language.

Keywords:   human language, catastrophism, reciprocal altruism, protolanguage, spare neurons, human evolution

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