From Grunting To Gabbing: Why Humans Can Talk

Most of us do it every day without even thinking about it, yet talking is a uniquely human ability. Not only do humans have evolved brains that process and produce language and syntax, but we also can make a range of sounds and tones that we use to form hundreds of thousands of words.

To make these sounds — and talk — humans use the same basic apparatus that chimps have: lungs, throat, voice box, tongue and lips. But we're the ones singing opera and talking on the phone. That is because over thousands of years, humans have evolved a longer throat and smaller mouth better suited for shaping sound.

Read the rest or listen to the story on NPR.

Tags: evolution, language, linguistics, speech, talking, vocalization

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I have always liked the theory that the physical adaptations for speech came first, as adaptations for nonlinguistic singing (similar to birdsong) and the semantic communication evolved later as a neural kludge. If I recall correctly, this idea came about at least in part from PET studies that found that the speech processing areas appeared to be adapted from the visual areas of the cortex and not from the areas that actually controlled the throat and mouth, and from a desire to explain how so many interdependent adaptations could arise independently.

Sean, I think it is a safe bet that the physcial adaptations came first. As for the speech areas adapted from the visual areas of the cortex, well, that would make a lot of sense in a way, and could be true. I'm not a scientist, but I believe their are two visual processing areas of the brain -- the consciouss processing in the occipatal lobe and the unconscious processing in the medial-posterior side of the temporal lobe (I think).


But our language skills sort of reside all over, so it is hard to say for sure.



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