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The Evolution of Language: Towards Gestural Hypotheses


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 5 Cooperative Foundations: An Essential Requirement for Language


Why don’t apes use language? Comparative psychologists continue to surprise us with discoveries of ape behaviours that were thought to be exclusively human. The similarities are vivid, but stop at the “Rubicon” described by Müller and Descartes – the ability to talk. An intuitive view identifies anatomical differences as a reason – most importantly the differences in the construction of the vocal apparatus. It is clear from our discussion so far that such an explanation is completely wrong. More recent proposals have focussed on the supposed human uniqueness of the cognitive preadaptations for language use – the “cognitive infrastructure” (see Chapter 4). Currently, however, social factors have been gaining considerable attention, and “the greatest mystery” of the evolutionary origin of language is the cooperative information sharing (Fitch, 2010: 417).51

The easiest, and the best, answer to the question “Why don’t apes speak?” may well be “Because it does not pay”. An ape could inform another ape about the location of food, but it would be a better idea to lie to the other ape so that it goes away and the first ape could enjoy the food alone. If there exists a risk of manipulation that cannot be detected easily, ignoring such uncertain information seems a much better strategy. This aspect is easy to overlook since as humans we do not think twice about it – we are accustomed to the principle of trust that our society and communication are driven by. In linguistic and non-linguistic interactions, we...

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