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 ontogeny and evolution of the brain, cognition, and language

Kathleen Gibson

Brain maturation data provide no factual support for the common view that the human brain is a neotenous organ. Nor can the human brain be considered unusually altricial at birth. Limited recapitulation, however, does characterize human neural maturation. Specifically, the neocortical association areas are late to mature and have demonstrated the greatest phylogenetic expansion. This parallel provides a basis for attempts to unravel the evolution of language phylogeny by examining its ontogeny. In particular, the enlargement of the neocortical association areas has most probably provided the quantitatively based, hierarchical mental constructional skills which Case suggests underlie the maturation of human intelligence and which appear to distinguish human and ape tool-using and communication behaviours. These considerations suggest that Case's quantitative developmental framework provides a logical base for theories of language evolution. In Case's framework, the development of intelligence is not only quantitative and hierarchical in nature, it is also interactive. Object-manipulation skills, social behaviour, and language mature in a synchronous and mutually facilitatory fashion. This implies that not only brain size, but also cultural remains such as tools, shelters, or evidence of feeding techniques can provide important clues to the evolution of language. On the basis of these considerations, language, like tool-use and brain size, is postulated to have evolved slowly over several million years. With each cognitive and linguistic advance, new foraging and social interactive skills would have arisen. It is suggested that, as in ontogeny, language evolution began in mother-child dyads with the communication of simple needs and desires by one- to two-'word' utterances. As grammatical skills increased, hominids became capable of discussing co-operative endeavours and/or absent 'rendezvous' or other sites. At still later stages, linguistic skills permitted the discussion of animal and plant ecology and, finally, the prediction of seasonal events.