Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Language Evolution is a Mystery, Evolutionists Admit

There’s a huge gap between human language and chimp communication. Image courtesy of Delphine Bruyere, Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

There’s no shortage of Darwinian just so stories that attempt to explain the origin and evolution of human language. However, in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology a team of well-known researchers including Marc Hauser, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin acknowledge that they don’t have a clue as to how humans accrued the ability to use words and put them into sentences.

Hauser et al. write:

Understanding the evolution of language requires evidence regarding origins and processes that led to change. In the last 40 years, there has been an explosion of research on this problem as well as a sense that considerable progress has been made. We argue instead that the richness of ideas is accompanied by a poverty of evidence, with essentially no explanation of how and why our linguistic computations and representations evolved. We show that, to date, (1) studies of nonhuman animals provide virtually no relevant parallels to human linguistic communication, and none to the underlying biological capacity; (2) the fossil and archaeological evidence does not inform our understanding of the computations and representations of our earliest ancestors, leaving details of origins and selective pressure unresolved; (3) our understanding of the genetics of language is so impoverished that there is little hope of connecting genes to linguistic processes any time soon; (4) all modeling attempts have made unfounded assumptions, and have provided no empirical tests, thus leaving any insights into language's origins unverifiable. Based on the current state of evidence, we submit that the most fundamental questions about the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever, with considerable uncertainty about the discovery of either relevant or conclusive evidence that can adjudicate among the many open hypotheses.”

They contrast animal and human communication, saying:

Talking birds and signing apes rank among the most fantastic claims in the literature on language evolution, but examination of the evidence shows fundamental differences between child language acquisition and nonhuman species' use of language and language-like systems. For instance, dogs can respond to a few hundred words, but only after thousands of hours of training; children acquire words rapidly and spontaneously generalize their usage in a wide ranges of contexts (Kaminski et al., 2004; Pilley and Reid, 2011). Similarly, Nim Chimpsky, the chimpanzee that produced the only public corpus of data in all animal language studies, produced signs considerably below the expected degree of combinatorial diversity seen in two-year old children (Yang, 2013), and with no understanding of syntactic structure or semantic interpretation.”

They also discuss mutations in the FOXP2 gene that some have associated with language evolution and conclude that this is not a viable explanation.

Concluding their paper, they state: “These are all big IFs about the nature and possibility of future evidence. Until such evidence is brought forward, understanding of language evolution will remain one of the great mysteries of our species.”

Unlike animals, humans seem to be programmed to learn language. For those who take Genesis seriously, this would not be a big surprise, as Adam was able to communicate with God from day one.


Hauser, Marc, Charles Yang, Robert Berwick, Ian Tattersall, Michael J. Ryan, Jeffrey Watumull, Noam Chomsky and Richard C. Lewontin. 2014. The mystery of language evolution. Frontiers in Psychology 5 (401).