The historical origin of language

David A. Steinberg
The Såa Institute, Fiddletown, CA, USA

Language is often considered a defining feature of humanity, in addition to being a neurological phenomenon of manifest importance. Traditionally, the origin of language is attributed to Homo sapiens neanderthalensis on the basis of modern anatomic characteristics of the hyoid bone. The implicit assumption underlying this identification is that human language requires the sound-generating capacity of the modern larynx. In other words, the force driving the evolution of the larynx was language. I will first examine the evidence for this orthodoxy, and will demonstrate that a non-rigorous statistical analysis of sound-making capacity suggests exactly the opposite conclusion, i.e., the modern larynx could not have developed for the purpose of verbal language. I will then propose a theory of mental evolution whose predictions are verified by the observed progression of artifacts of early man. By matching the stages of physical and mental evolution, the appearance of language is thereby assigned to the end of the Upper Paleolithic Age in c. 10,000 BCE. Though this result is heterodox it is based on an independently derived and verified theory providing a more rational choice for the archaeologic correlate of the appearance of language.

Poster Session II
Friday, 20 June 1997, 16.10 - 16.40

Second Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and 6th Meeting of the European Club on the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Leiden, The Netherlands