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A Social View on the Chinese Language

Jerome L. Packard

A Social View on the Chinese Language is intended to be a general linguistic introduction to the Chinese language for the general reader and can be used in beginning-level Chinese linguistics courses. It is different from other Chinese linguistics surveys because, in addition to the usual areas of interest (such as the Chinese dialects, the history of the language, the characters and the grammar), it offers a view into linguistic phenomena that are also related to human behavior and society, such as how Chinese children and US college students learn Chinese, how the brain processes Chinese, the genetic origins of Chinese, language disorders and language loss in Chinese, differences in Chinese language use in different social groups, studies of Chinese reading and psycholinguistic aspects of Chinese language use.
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2 Chinese Language Origins

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2

Chinese Language Origins

The Origins of Human Language

Human language is thought to have first appeared as early as 1 million years ago in Africa in the hominin species Homo erectus.1 Our earlier ancestors, such as Homo habilis, may have been adept at making and using tools, but according to the fossil evidence they may not have possessed the cranial capacity to accommodate the larger brain needed for advanced cognition. But it is thought that H. ergaster and H. erectus did possess the advanced thinking skills that eventually gave rise to talking. H. ergaster and erectus may have been the first species of homo that were able to speak aloud, or, ‘externalize’ their thoughts—an ability made possible by their larger brains and the need for them to share thoughts with their fellow group members. It is for this reason that Homo erectus descendants such as floresiensis, denisova, neanderthalis, heidelbergensis and rudolfensis—who inhabited different Eurasian sites after Out of Africa II2—most likely already possessed the capacity for human spoken language.

Scientists are able to infer the migration patterns of these early hominins based on DNA3 obtained from ancient human remains and present-day populations. When taken together with historical, anthropological, archaeological and linguistic evidence, this genetic information helps us deduce the characteristics of human populations and their movements over time.4 There is general agreement that most of the populations that now occupy East Asia descend directly from a large group...

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