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The Evolution of Language: Towards Gestural Hypotheses

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Przemysław Żywiczyński and Sławomir Wacewicz

This book discusses the scope and development of the science of language evolution – a newly emergent field that investigates the origin of language. The book is addressed to audiences who are not professionally involved in science and presents the problems of language origins together with introductory information on such topics as the theory of evolution, elements of linguistic theory, the neural infrastructure of language or the signalling theory.

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Chapter 4 Preadaptations for Language

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We use the term preadaptations in order to indicate any language-related differences between humans and their hypothetical common ancestors with chimpanzees. These differences constitute the preliminary conditions which made it possible for language to develop in our evolutionary lineage. The majority of the phenomena we discuss in this work are exaptations. These changes served, at least initially, goals other than language, and later began to play a role in its evolution. Nevertheless, some of the changes were directly involved in the development of the language faculty, and for this reason can be viewed as language adaptations. Following Hauser et al. (2002) we adopt a division into sensorimotor preadaptations, ultimately related to the production and reception of speech; and cognitive preadaptations, which we explain in the context of the relation between the evolution of language and the evolution of the brain. The most important of the preadaptations – cooperation – is addressed in a separate chapter.

4.1 Speech

Speaking is definitely one of the most complex human motor abilities. All the organs of the vocal apparatus that serve speech production initially performed other functions – mainly breathing and ingestion. The vocal tract has a characteristic inversed L-shape with the phonation apparatus, comprised of a pair of vocal folds located in the larynx. Vocal ligaments, covered with folds, are separated while breathing and producing voiceless sounds, but while producing voiced sounds, the ligaments pull together and open interchangeably. Over the larynx, up to the nasal meatus and oral cavity,...

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