“Language is a product of our kindness”

The DNA of humans and chimpanzees hardly differs from each other. Yet our closest relatives, such as gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans, are in danger of extinction, while Homo sapiens has conquered the world with over seven billion individuals (and counts). Would language make the difference?

Language, not communication, that is. Because all living beings can communicate. Fungi send each other alarm signals when the danger is imminent and even bacteria exchange information.

Chimpanzees communicate through a variety of sounds, facial expressions, and behaviors, all of which have different meanings. Numerous experiments show that they can also to some extent learn human sign language. But applying it grammatically correct is too ambitious.

Some animal communication systems can be quite sophisticated, but humans only master all the communication skills that can be described as language.

Roger Mars (1979) is an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at Oxford University and principal investigator at Radboud University Nijmegen. He studied psychology in Groningen and received his doctorate from Radboud University in 2006 with a dissertation on the way the brain makes and implements decisions. His group conducts comparative brain research in Oxford. In doing so, Mars attempts to map how brains in humans and other animals differ from each other and what this means for their behavior.

Is it conceivable from an evolutionary point of view that people without language would not be human? And animals with language are not animals, but a kind of people? In other words, did language make us human?

“Climate change meant, among other things, that our ancestors had to help each other get enough food together. In this way, a cultural entity gradually emerged that could actively collaborate, transfer knowledge from generation to generation and learn to communicate through spoken language. ”

“A number of changes in the brain made it possible. This was done in three areas: the cerebral cortex expanded, the different parts of the brain became more integrated with each other and existing structures gained new functions. Together, these changes in the brain have led to modern humans.”

Why do we stand with our heads and shoulders above other animals when it comes to communication?

“Perhaps fasciculus arcuate transmits information that enters the brain through the senses to other areas of the brain. That information is combined with knowledge from memory and with motor knowledge. It explains not only our language skills, but also, among other things, our ability to use objects as tools. “something you see to a lesser extent in apes. In humans, the curved bundle has developed much longer, with more nerve connections in the last part of it. And therein lies a possible explanation for our complex language skills.”

“The fact that human language skills are unique, I think, is therefore due to the organization of our brain. Our ancestors faced the need to communicate; they probably had to solve certain problems to get food. That would have resulted in selection pressure on brain organization. “

Which came first: man or language?

“Hard to say. Genetically, we are almost no different than chimpanzees. But they must hide in a dark corner of the rainforest and fear for their existence while we are in charge of this planet. Many things we can do, other primates can also do.In fact we are not so special.And yet there must be something that makes us unique.But I do not think it is language: we are not chimpanzees plus language.There was something before that that separated us, not only from apes, but also from Neanderthals and other human species. “

“From the beginning, we were very social primates, who were more dependent on mutual cooperation. It was almost inevitable that a repertoire of gestures, facial expressions and primitive vocalizations was built up, after which selection pressure led to the expansion of our brain capacity and the development of our speech organs. From an evolutionary point of view, the emergence of language was a logical consequence. “

Leave a Comment