Hominid cultural transmission and the evolution of language

Biology and Philosophy 19 (5):721-737 (2004)
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Abstract

This paper presents the hypothesis that linguistic capacity evolved through the action of natural selection as an instrument which increased the efficiency of the cultural transmission system of early hominids. We suggest that during the early stages of hominization, hominid social learning, based on indirect social learning mechanisms and true imitation, came to constitute cumulative cultural transmission based on true imitation and the approval or disapproval of the learned behaviour of offspring. A key factor for this transformation was the development of a conceptual capacity for categorizing learned behaviour in value terms - positive or negative, good or bad. We believe that some hominids developed this capacity for categorizing behaviour, and such an ability allowed them to approve or disapprove of their offsprings- learned behaviour. With such an ability, hominids were favoured, as they could transmit to their offspring all their behavioural experience about what can and cannot be done. This capacity triggered a cultural transmission system similar to the human one, though pre-linguistic. We suggest that the adaptive advantage provided by this new system of social learning generated a selection pressure in favour of the development of a linguistic capacity allowing children to better understand the new kind of evaluative information received from parents.

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