It’s widely thought that human language evolved in universally similar ways, following trajectories common across place and culture, and possibly reflecting common linguistic structures in our brains. But a massive, millennium-spanning analysis of humanity’s major language families suggests otherwise.
Instead, language seems to have evolved along varied, complicated paths, guided less by neurological settings than cultural circumstance. If our minds do shape the evolution of language, it’s likely at levels deeper and more nuanced than many researchers anticipated.
“It’s terribly important to understand human cognition, and how the human mind is put together,” said Michael Dunn, an evolutionary linguist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute and co-author of the new study, published April 14 in Nature. The findings “do not support simple ideas of the mind as a computer, with a language processor plugged in. They support much-more complex ideas of how language arises.”
Story: Bandon Leim, Wired | Photo: University of Kansas, Department of Anthropology