Section 1


Outline of Human Phylogeny

Evolutionary Trees
and DNA

Brain Evolution

Hand and Bipedality

Section 2
Social and socio-
cultural systems

Primate societies

Social relations and the evolution of culture

Social relations, communication and cognition

Human socio-cultural patterns

Tools and symbolic behaviour

Palaeolithic Art

Contemporary hunter-gatherer art

Section 3
Ontogeny and symbolism

Editorial Introduction: Ontogeny & Phylogeny

The role of ontogenesis

Brain, cognition, and language

Early interaction and cognitive skills

Language and thought

Theories of symbolization
and development

Children's drawings and the evolution of art

Section 4
Language systems

Spoken language and
sign language

The gestural primacy hypothesis

Comparative cognition

Animal language and cognition

Language acquisition


The prehistory of grammar

Writing systems


Links Policy

Relevant Links

The reconstruction of the evolution of human spoken language

Mary LeCron Foster

Language is an analogical system for classification on multiple levels. Language systems build upon semantic analogies and analogies in phonological, morphological, and syntactic distributions (positional analogies). New meanings are created through the process of metaphorical extension. The direction of language change is determined in large part by this process and by analogical systematization - hierarchical congruence of classes.

The regularities of sound-change reconstructed by the comparative method provide the most reliable diagnoses of remote linguistic relations; but these are limited to 'families', or, in a few cases, 'stocks' made up of interrelated families. Broader groupings, 'phyla' or 'super-stocks', are suggested on the basis of typological relations, rather than on firmly established sound-correspondences. The basis for going even further and attempting to reconstruct a single prototype for all the world's spoken languages is not agreed upon; but the reconstruction should reflect systematic correspondences in sound and meaning throughout, whether insights were initially gained from typological studies of phonology and/or from internal reconstructions. Hypotheses must show system. While individual meanings underlying reconstructed forms need not be identical, differences should be minimized. Once correspondences are firmly established, culturally influenced semantic variations are useful in assessing degrees of interrelationship among languages.

Pursuing the monogenetic reconstruction through this bare-bones phonemic approach, refined by a series of simplifications, leads to the startling hypothesis that the sounds of which the VC and CVC roots are composed were originally themselves meaning-bearers. These phememes, as they are termed, were minimal units of sound whose meaning derived from the shaping and movement of the articulatory tract. In other words, the phonemes of language, as well as the combinations into which they unite within the word were originally not arbitrary signs, but abstract, highly motivated analogical symbols.

In the earliest stage of primordial language, single phememes expressed notions o space and motion. Across the evolution of the genus Homo these were differentiated and new phememes created, hypothetically in stages, until the phememic inventory was completed during the Upper Palaeolithic. In the Neolithic period, it is hypothesized, syllabic concatenation with morphophonemic merging increasingly obscured the analogical significance of phememes, which gradually became what we now know as phonemes. Nevertheless, in the roots of most modern languages a number of the primordial phememes are still recognizable [Eds].