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The Evolution of Languages

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image of Netherlands Journal of Zoology
For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Animal Biology (Vol 53 and onwards).

We still do not know whether language developed in more than one human tribe at the same time, or in only one, more likely the latter, and probably not more than 100 000 years ago. Language was thus a late development, and one that took place in only one subspecies of homo, the sapiens sapiens. Man became suddenly an efficient hunter by means of the coordination which languages make possible. More important than hunting: warfare against other subspecies advanced dramatically as organised, prearranged and rehearsed strategy baffled the speechless competitors for shelter and resources. A set of conditions were necessary before language was possible: the brain had to treble its weight and the structure of the jaws had to be completely changed. Equally important: the muscles serving the tongue and the lips had to be refined so that numerous controlled movements can be made. Language also made the organisation of larger societies more effective. Language also made herding cattle possible for which the herdsmen have to coordinate their movements to control the beasts. No culture is conceivable without language, from religion to plant selection, the beginning of agriculture, probably by women. The more the leaders made use of language to organise ever larger tribes, the more successful they were and even today the trend is towards ever larger conglomerations of nations' unions. It is the invention of language that has lifted homo out of the animal world into a world of his own. It was the most crucial breakthrough ever made, leading to the invention of symbols, art, writing, history, literature, singing and music, crafts, skills and finally, science, first medicine and finally computers, based entirely on language, which has led to the information-revolution.

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