Darwin and the linguists: the coevolution of mind and language, Part 1. Problematic friends

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38 (3):573-584 (2007)
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Abstract

In his book The descent of man , Charles Darwin paid tribute to a trio of writers who offered naturalistic explanations of the origin of language. Darwin’s concurrence with these figures was limited, however, because each of them denied some aspect of his thesis that the evolution of language had been coeval with and essential to the emergence of humanity’s characteristic mental traits. Darwin first sketched out this thesis in his theoretical notebooks of the 1830s and then clarified his position in Descent, where he argued that mind–language coevolution had occurred prior to the rise of distinct racial groups. He thus opposed the view of August Schleicher and Ernst Haeckel, who taught that speech had originated subsequent to the geographical and racial dispersion of humanity’s ancestors. As Darwin argued in Descent, this quasi-polygenetic version of coevolution was unable to explain primeval man’s initial dominance over rival ape-like populations. Drawing inspiration from British anthropologists, Darwin made the early development of language, hence mental monogenesis, central to his account of human evolution

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