The Emergence and Evolution of Language: Some Ecological Perspectives


Over the past 2-3 decades, linguists have attempted to account for the emergence of language in mankind on the Darwinian evolutionary model. The scholarship has generally focused on articulating various ecological factors, chiefly changes in the hominine anatomy and mental capacity, which account for the protracted and incremental way in which language may have arisen. Capitalizing on inter-individual variation and population structure, this talk speculates on how linguistic diversity and community-specific norms emerged (while the agency lies in individuals) and on how the phenomena of language birth and death seem to have recurred several times over since the dispersal of our species out of East Africa about 50,000 years ago. These phenomena make it difficult to reconstruct a primordial language, if there is any reason at all to prefer language monogenesis over polygenesis.