A tentative framework for the acquisition of language and modern human cognition.

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Tattersall, Ian
Year of Publication: 2016
Journal: J Anthropol Sci
Volume: 94
Pagination: 157-66
Date Published: 2016 Jun 20
Publication Language: eng
ISSN: 2037-0644

Modern human beings process information symbolically, rearranging mental symbols to envision multiple potential realities. They also express the ideas they form using structured articulate language. No other living creature does either of these things. Yet it is evident that we are descended from a non-symbolic and non-linguistic ancestor. How did this astonishing transformation occur? Scrutiny of the fossil and archaeological records reveals that the transition to symbolic reasoning happened very late in hominid history - indeed, within the tenure of anatomically recognizable Homo sapiens. It was evidently not simply a passive result of the increase in brain size that typified multiple lineages of the genus Homo over the Pleistocene. Instead, a brain exaptively capable of complex symbolic manipulation and language acquisition was acquired in the major developmental reorganization that gave rise to the anatomically distinctive species Homo sapiens. The new capacity it conferred was later recruited through the action of a cultural stimulus, most plausibly the spontaneous invention of language.

DOI: 10.4436/JASS.94030
Alternate Journal: J Anthropol Sci