This target article presents a plausible evolutionary scenario for the emergence of the neural preconditions for language in the hominid lineage. In pleistocene primate lineages there was a paired evolutionary expansion of frontal and parietal neocortex (through certain well-documented adaptive changes associated with manipulative behaviors) resulting, in ancestral hominids, in an incipient Broca's region and in a configurationally unique junction of the parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes of the brain (the POT). On our view, the development of the POT in (...) our ancestors resulted in the neuroanatomical substrate consistent with the ability for representations in modality-neutral association cortex and, as a result of structure-imposing interaction with Broca's area, the hierarchically structured Evidence from paleoneurology and comparative primate neuroanatomy is used to argue that Homo habilis (2.5–2 million years ago) was the first hominid to have the appropriate gross neuroanatomical configuration to support conceptual structure. We thus suggest that the neural preconditions for language are met in H. habilis. Finally, we advocate a theory of language acquisition that uses conceptual structure as input to the learning procedures, thus bridging the gap between it and language. (shrink)
This response to continuing commentary addresses brain-hand relationships in Cebus apella (as introduced in West-ergaard's commentary), the evolutionary and acquisition parallels between music and language (suggested by Lynch), and the potential behavioral linguistic consequences of the evolutionary neurobiology in Australopithecus africanus and Homo habilis (discussed by Tobias). Finally, we reiterate the importance of well informed, multidisciplinary approaches to the study of the emergence of human species-specific cognition, especially linguistic capacity.
This response clarifies the nature of reappropriation and the definition of language. It explicates the relationship between neural systems and language and between homology and evolutionary gradualism. Through a review of ape capacities in the realms of language and tool use, it distinguishes human language acquisition from nonhuman learning. Finally, it suggests the appropriate sorts of evidence on which to base further evolutionary arguments relevant to the origins of language.