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Palaeoneurology and the Emergence of Language

Abstract : The origin of language has been much debated over the years. Recent research has centred the controversies on two main ideas. Language, as defined by the Basic Property formulated by Chomsky, is a characteristic unique to H. sapiens that developed in our species in the past 300,000 years. Other scientists argue that the Basic Property is a derived characteristic shared with other hominin species, such as H. neanderthalensis and the last common ancestor of both modern humans and Neandertals, which evolved over a long period of time, perhaps as long as 2 million years. Palaeoneurology, which studies the phenotype of the brain in past populations, may have left this complex topic aside because of the difficulty of deducing brain morphology from endocasts (imprints of the neurocranium) and inferring function from brain morphology. In this manuscript, we review the various hypotheses on the evolution of language, highlighting the potential of palaeoneurology to help understand this complex aspect of human evolution, and provide an updated interpretation of previously published endocranial phenotypic data from fossil populations. This brings additional support to a long chronology framework for the origin of language in the hominin lineage: the basic property for modern language may have been in place from the last common ancestor of H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis.
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https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03007732
Contributor : Aurélien Mounier <>
Submitted on : Monday, November 23, 2020 - 10:59:37 AM
Last modification on : Friday, April 23, 2021 - 5:34:02 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 6:47:04 PM

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Aurélien Mounier, Camille Noûs, Antoine Balzeau. Palaeoneurology and the Emergence of Language. Bulletins et Mémoires de la Société d'anthropologie de Paris, Springer Verlag, 2020, 32 (3-4), pp.147-157. ⟨10.3166/bmsap-2020-0098⟩. ⟨hal-03007732⟩

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