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How Did Humans Acquire Language?

Depends how you define language, and if you think humans were the first animals to have it.

Mitchell Diamond
Published in
7 min readJul 7, 2022

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In her Medium article What Was Important Enough For Language to Form?, Katrina Paulson asks why humans developed complex language? She surveys various theories for the advent of human language: to promote tool use, for simian-like social grooming, or fire for cooking — not as instruction in the use and maintenance of fire, but to wile away the time while waiting for food to cook.

Paulson is not particularly swayed by any of these and rightly so. She cites a more interesting idea based on the work of evolutionary biologist Sarah Hrdy that cooperation and coordination are necessary for childbirth and child-bearing. Language would have been instrumental in facilitating both of these, but within all this, however, is the assumption that only humans have this kind of language. Paulson says, “…plenty of animals communicate without using words…but we’re the only animal on the planet with languages like ours.” Except it’s not true.

A couple of assumptions cannot be overlooked. Why should there have been only one or two evolutionary developments that kicked off human language? Language likely solved many concurrent challenges. No one behavior would have been the sole reason for acquiring…

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Mitchell Diamond

Author of Darwin’s Apple: The Evolutionary Biology of Religion, a new take on the function and purpose of religion. http://www.darwinsapple.com