How and why language appeared has been a subject of countless studies and hours of research, but the results haven’t been always clear and as a matter of fact, they’ve sometimes been contradictory. Still, according to a recent study conducted by Professor Nick Chater (UCL Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences) and his colleagues, one thing’s for sure: it’s culture that defines a language.
They came to this conclusion by creating models of genes to find out which genes would evolve as language evolves to; they came to the conclusion that such an evolution is extremely improbable, because gene modifications are much more slower than language modifications. Still, a cultural modifications take place much more faster than genetic ones, and with a margin, they coincide with language alterations.
According to what is called today “the Baldwin effect” what is learned in a lifespan gets slowly encoded into your genes (we’ll get in more details in a later article), but the biology behind our language preceeds the actual appearance of the language.
Professor Nick Chater, UCL Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, said:
“Language is uniquely human. But does this uniqueness stem from biology or culture? This question is central to our understanding of what it is to be human, and has fundamental implications for the relationship between genes and culture. Our paper uncovers a paradox at the heart of theories about the evolutionary origin and genetic basis of human language – although we have appear to have a genetic predisposition towards language, human language has evolved far more quickly than our genes could keep up with, suggesting that language is shaped and driven by culture rather than biology.”
Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!