Brain Expansion: enlargement and language (Evolution)

by David Turell @, Saturday, May 02, 2020, 21:34 (180 days ago) @ David Turell

A very long essay claiming erectus had early language and speech:

https://aeon.co/essays/tools-and-voyages-suggest-that-homo-erectus-invented-language

"we need to travel back in time at least 1.9 million years ago to the birth of Homo erectus, as they emerged from the ancient process of primate evolution. Erectus had nearly double the brain size of any previous hominin, walked habitually upright, were superb hunters, travelled the world, and sailed to ocean islands. And somewhere along the way they got language. Yes, erectus. Not Neanderthals. Not sapiens. And if erectus invented language, this means that Neanderthals, born more than a million years later, entered a world already linguistic.

***

"Erectus was an imposing creature. Males stood between 173 cm and 180 cm. Their immediate ancestors, the Australopithecine males, were only about 137 cm tall (their immediate ancestors might have been Homo habilis, but only if we accept that habilis were not Australopithecines, or that they were a separate species from Homo erectus, neither of which is clear). The brains of these early humans averaged around 950 cubic centimetres in volume, double the size of the Australopithecines, though smaller than those of male Neanderthals (1,450 ccs) and sapiens (1,250-1,300 ccs), but still within the range of modern sapiens females. The vocal apparatus of erectus might not have been much more advanced than that of a modern gorilla or it might have been more similar to ours. But whether their speech sounded different than ours or not, it was nevertheless adequate for language.

"Evidence that erectus had language comes from their settlements, their art, their symbols, their sailing ability and their tools. Erectus settlements are found throughout most of the old world. And, most importantly for the idea that erectus had language, open oceans were not barriers to their travel.

***

"Evidence from the erectus settlement studied at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel, for example, suggests not only that erectus controlled fire but that their settlements were planned. One area was used for plant-food processing, another for animal-material processing, and yet another for communal life. Erectus, incredibly, also made sea craft. Sea travel is the only way to explain the island settlements of Wallacea (Indonesia), Crete and, in the Arabian Sea, Socotra. None of these were accessible to erectus except by crossing open ocean, then and now. These island cultural sites demonstrate that erectus was capable of constructing seaworthy crafts capable of carrying 20 people or more. According to most archaeologists, 20 individuals would have been the minimum required to found the settlements discovered.

***

"Erectus had relative shortcomings of course, beyond possibly lacking the range of sounds of modern humans. It also lacked the modern form of the important FOXP2 gene that sapiens have. Do the shortcomings of vocal apparatus and primitive genes pose a problem for the idea that erectus had language? Not at all. For example, the evolution of speech was triggered by language – as we developed languages, the modes of expressing them improved over time. Yes, sapiens speech is likely better than erectus speech. But this doesn’t mean that erectus lacked speech. Any mammal could have speech with the sounds they are capable of producing today. They just need the right kind of brain. The sapiens version of FOXP2 helps us to articulate sounds more easily and to think more quickly and efficiently than erectus. But it is not a ‘language gene’. And though erectus might have had, as it were, the ‘Model T’ version of this gene while we possess the ‘Tesla version’, their ‘primitive’ FOXP2 would not have deprived them of language. FOXP2 and other genes adapted partially due to evolutionary pressure from language and culture. (my bold)

***

"Erectus was physically capable of at least as many sounds as a gorilla or my laptop’s binary language. In fact, even with the same vocal apparatus, erectus likely could have made many more sounds than gorillas because of its more advanced brain. Chimps don’t talk because they don’t have the brains to support symbols, not because they lack the right vocal apparatus.

***

"The conclusion that erectus invented language through their higher intelligence and cultural development is strong, as evidenced by the archaeological record. But if language is merely a technology based on symbols and grammar, other creatures could have also discovered it. If they didn’t, it would be because they lack culture. "

Comment: McCrone, my resident expert on early language and speech thought erectus could easily manage five simple words a minute (PG. 128 in SVR book). Note my bold which states your idea and I agree with it: all authors assume the brain simply enlarged, no cause give other than evolution did it. The key thought for me is the bold which makes the point that only a large advanced brain can produce the artifacts such as language. And I think you have the whole process backward. Only an advanced brain can have advanced thoughts. You want the thought before the brain is capable of it. We will never agree on this point. Very long essay, worth reading, since it encapsulates all the amazing things erectus did.


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