Essay on Language and Human Species

5859 Words Apr 18th, 2011 24 Pages
IS LANGUAGE UNIQUE TO THE HUMAN SPECIES? by Ulla Hedeager INTRODUCTION The assertion that humans differ from animals in their use of language has been the subject of much discussion as scientists have investigated language use by non-human species. Researchers have taught apes, dolphins, and parrots various systems of human-like communication, and recently, the study of animal language and behaviour in its natural environment rather than in the laboratory has increased. It is my aim to discuss human language within an evolutionary perspective, to step across disciplinary boundaries of different fields of science, and to show how we may consider language only as one of the many forms that animal communication has taken and that it may not …show more content…
In any case, without having intensively investigated any form of animal communication that may resemble human language, e.g. combinations of words/signs, intonation, and body-language, within a natural social context, we cannot claim that language is unique to the human species. WHERE DOES HUMAN LANGUAGE COME FROM ? Where does human language come from? Language, being an efficient human adjustment to the environment, evolved by natural selection. This seems indeed the most likely scientific explanation, and unless we believe in a divine origin, there should be no reason to reject a Darwinian point of view. Assuming that new species would emerge when an adaptive variation improved their survival capacity (Wardhaugh 1993:34-36), Darwin argued that the theory of natural selection could explain the evolution of instincts, too. The instincts of animals are prewired in the nervous system, and some of the brain cells, feature detectors, respond to certain kinds of stimuli (Wardhaugh 1993:100-102). Similarly, language is prewired in the nervous system of humans, and the human speech detectors are responding to language. Thus we may regard the Chomskyan language organ as a language instinct (Pinker 1995:17-20). Supporting the Darwinian theory, the embryology reveals structural resemblances between the embryonic stages of

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