Re: Human Language. (long post)

Thomas Clarke (
2 Jan 1997 20:08:52 GMT

In article <> Michael McBroom <>
> 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.

> 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.

We are in tune concerning this.

> > >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.

> ... 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.

With regard to the vocal tract, I guess you have not come
across the writings of Elain Morgan, (_The Aquatic Ape_,
_The Scars of Evolution_, a couple of other books).
Starting with a suggestion by Alistair Hardy she has written
that much can be explained about the differences betweeen man
and ape if an aquatic or semi-aquatic episode is postulated.
Aquatic animals (think of pigs) tend to loose hair and develop
a layer of fat much like that people have.
In addition, "otters, beavers, seals, sea lions, walruses, dugongs,
and manatees" etc tend to have a respiratory tract like that of humans.
(Cetaceans of course, have a different system altogether, being
full time aquatics). The need to wade out and gather shellfish etc
would have given bipedalism a selective advantage as well.

I find Morgan's ideas interesting. For a more complete account see
William Calvin's web page
Calvin even has a candidate location for the semi-aquatic episode:
the Danakil Alps in Africa which were isolated islands about 6 MYA.
This date corresponds with the DNA dates for the chimp/human split.
Also evolutionarily small populations isolated as on islands evolve
more rapidly. When sea-levels fell and the D. Alps rejoined africa
the now Australopithecenes spread to East Africa and the rest is
in the fossil record more or less.

The aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH for short) has been extensively
debated on sci.anthropology.paleo. Much flammage was involved.
It seems that since Elaine Morgan is not a real paleontologist
(she is a journalist given to hyperbole and rhetoric) many
find her ideas difficult.

Tom Clarke