When did language originate? It’s a tricky question to answer. We can’t go back in time. We can’t even look at “fossilized brains” to see how they worked. So how can we understand the origins of language?
Scientists have a few ways to do this. One way is to scan the brains of living animals – humans, chimpanzees, apes, and monkeys. They can see how these brains work, how they are different than ours, and how they are the same. Using this, they can infer some of our own evolutionary history.
Many people previously thought the origins of language went back about five million years. But now, a team of scientists are suggesting that pre-language ability actually went back much, much farther.
Today on the podcast we are joined by Dr. Chris Petkov and Dr. Ben Wilson. Chris is a Professor of Comparative Neuropsychology and Newcastle University Medical School. Ben is a comparative neurosciencist studying how the brain evolved to support language. Previously he worked at Newcastle University, and is about to move to Emory University. We discuss how far back they can trace the origin of language, how they do it, and why language is so special to us humans after all.
You can follow Chris @cipetkov.
For patrons of this podcast, check out the bonus content at Patreon.com. You’ll find images of brain scans, one of Ben and Chris’ monkey friends from their lab, and a mini-episode where Chris talks about what music and language have in common. If you are not a patron and want to become one, you can sign up at Patreon.com. Thank you for you support!
Some of the background music you heard are clips from:
Language of My Reality by Tomas PhUsIoN (c) copyright 2005 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/phusion/860
Depart (cdk mix) by Analog By Nature (c) copyright 2015 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/cdk/50347 Ft: Tekno Eddy
SkyDub by Psykick (c) copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/Psykick/52937
Start To Grow (cdk Mix) by Analog By Nature (c) copyright 2013 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/cdk/43815 Ft: Jeris