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How human language became sophisticated

Wed, Apr 01, 2015, 05:51 PM
Washington, April 1, 2015: At some point of time 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, humans began talking to one another in a uniquely complex form -- that likely developed quite rapidly into a sophisticated language system, a new research suggests.

Instead of mumbles and grunts, people deployed syntax and structures resembling the ones we use today, said a new paper from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology.

"The hierarchical complexity found in present-day language is likely to have been present in human language since its emergence," explained Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics at MIT.

Many scholars believe that humans first started using a kind of "proto-language" -- a rudimentary, primitive kind of communication with only a gradual development of words and syntax.

But Miyagawa thinks this is not the case. Single words, he believes, bear traces of syntax showing that they must be descended from an older, syntax-laden system -- rather than from simple, primal utterances.

"Since we can find syntax within words, there is no reason to consider them as 'linguistic fossils' of a prior, pre-syntax stage," Miyagawa added.

Miyagawa has an alternate hypothesis about what created human language. Humans alone have combined an "expressive" layer of language, as seen in birdsong, with a "lexical" layer, as seen in monkeys who utter isolated sounds with real-world meaning, such as alarm calls.
Agency: IANS

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