Where did language come from? Connecting sign, song, and speech in hominin evolution

Anton Killin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Recently theorists have developed competing accounts of the origins and nature of protolanguage and the subsequent evolution of language. Debate over these accounts is lively. Participants ask: Is music a direct precursor of language? Were the first languages gestural? Or is language continuous with primate vocalizations, such as the alarm calls of vervets? In this article I survey the leading hypotheses and lines of evidence, favouring a largely gestural conception of protolanguage. However, the sticking point of gestural accounts, to use Robbins Burlings phrase, is the need to explain how language shifted to a largely vocal medium. So with a critical eye I consider Michael Corballiss most recent expression of his ideas about this transition (2017s The Truth About Language: What It Is And Where It Came From). Corballiss view is an excellent foil to mine and I present it as such. Contrary to Corballiss account, and developing Burlings conjecture that musicality played some role, I argue that the foundations of an evolving musicality (i.e., evolving largely independently of language) provided the means and medium for the shift from gestural to vocal dominance in language. In other words, I suggest that an independently evolving musicality prepared ancient hominins, morphologically and cognitively, for intentional articulate vocal production, enabling the evolution of speech.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)759-778pp
    JournalBiology and Philosophy
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


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