Language, gesture, etc.

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 14:08:34 -0500

In message <> writes:

> There's already been speculation that hand gestures and signing preceded
> verbal language in human evolution.

Not to throw too much cold water on this notion, but...

(1) It's clear that communication via gesture, body language, etc. preceded both
speech and language. Chimps employ some of the same hand gestures that we do,
so presumably the common ancestor had them too. They also do something like
"dancing" at times, such as during violent thuderstorms.

(2) On the other hand, it's far from clear that signing, as a complete
linguistic system (such as American Sign Language) preceded speech. By the time
we have evidence for language (increased cognitive capacity, more complex social
interactions, etc,) we also have the physical anatomy necessary for speech as we
know it. The fact that this anatomy is costly (increased risk of choking,
crowded teeth) suggests that speech was very valuable. The brain's capacity for
Language most likely coevolved along with the anatomy for the external
expression of language thru speech.

But of course, I could be wrong... Any other thoughts?

Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580