Re: Human Language. (long post)

Michael McBroom (
Thu, 02 Jan 1997 10:06:03 -0500

Tom Clarke wrote:
> Michael McBroom <> writes:
> >Secondly, the human vocal tract, which in its present configuration is
> >an *absolutely necessary* component for articulate speech, represents
> >too many hazards and compromises *not* to have had strong selectional
> >advantages.
> The same can be said for the peacock's tail, the bird of paradise's tail,
> the color of the male cardinal, deer antlers and lots of other strange
> phenotyopic features that are the result only of sexual selection.
> Just a modest suggestion with only low, but non-zero probability of truth.

I have thought for some time that there is a sexual component, and
perhaps a strong one, that led to the emergence and development of
language in humans. But I don't think it is the only one. There's too
powerful of a survival advantage present, in addition to a procreation
advantage, with language. Sweet talking aside, an individual male who
was able to mingle even rudimentary language abilities with persuasion
would have likely gone far.

> >Every time you swallow a mouthful of food, or gulp down a mouthful of
> >liquid, you run the risk of choking. Every other mammal in existence
> >has the "standard plan" vocal tract
> Be careful here. Aquatic mammals do not have the standard vocal tract
> plan. But I don't want to open that contentious topic in this
> thread.

Neither do I. But I suppose that's what I get for parrotting the words
of another (Philip Lieberman, 1984). I had wondered about the vocal
tract of cetaceans, myself. I would guess that it probably can't even
be referred as such, can it, since there is likely no connection between
the respiratory tract and the gullet? I don't believe we can just say
"aquatic mammals" here, though. I'll wager that otters, beavers, seals,
sea lions, walruses, dugongs, and manatees (did I leave any out?) all
use the standard plan vocal tract.

Nonetheless, the fact that adult humans are the only animals in
existence with a vocal tract that represents a health hazard when one
does something as fundamental as eat and drink, points to the overriding
importance that language has been to our progenitors.


Michael McBroom
CSUF Linguisctics