Sunday, 25 January 2015

New Darwinian Speculations on Language Evolution: Language Helped Humans Make Tools

New research suggests that language was needed to produce these kinds of tools.

Joel Kontinen

Since the time of Charles Darwin, the evolution of language has been a hard nut for Darwinians to crack. Why, if all living beings share a common ancestor, only we can invent and use words whilst other species cannot?

Writing in Science, Michael Balter reports on a study in the journal Nature Communications that attempts to tackle this dilemma:

If there’s one thing that distinguishes humans from other [sic] animals, it’s our ability to use language. But when and why did this trait evolve? A new study concludes that the art of conversation may have arisen early in human evolution, because it made it easier for our ancestors to teach each other how to make stone tools—a skill that was crucial for the spectacular success of our lineage.”

He acknowledges that for a long time the origin of language has been a source of controversy. As “words leave no traces in the archaeological record,” researchers have had to resort to indirect methods.

Recently, Thomas Morgan, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues attempted to solve the dilemma by having students prepare stone tools. They found that students who were allowed to speak with each other while making tools fared the best.

Their task was to make “artifacts called Oldowan tools, which include fairly simple stone flakes that were manufactured by early humans beginning about 2.5 million years ago.”

However, as each group was given five minutes to learn the method and another 25 minutes to make the tools, the experiment was anything but objective and it does not really address the issue of language evolution at all.

Unlike animals, humans seem to be programmed to learn language. For those who take Genesis seriously, this would not be a big surprise, as Adam was able to communicate with God from day one.


Balter, Michael. 2015. Human language may have evolved to help our ancestors make tools. Science (13 January).