Brain anatomy and the origins of language

  • Francisco Aboitiz Universidad de Chile


Language has been considered to be closely related to the concept of human uniqueness for several reasons; among them, its relation to mental processes and the fact that it occurs only in the human species. Since the very beginnings of evolutionary theor/, there has been controversy as to whether natural selection can or cannot have produced human language as a result. According to recent studies on the neuroanatomy of the language areas and on brain activation in linguistic tasks, the neural networks involved in linguistic communication appear as part of an overall, macroscopic network of corticocortical connections that serves to handle multiple items of immediate and mnemonic sensory information to be used in cognitive processing. Seen in this light, the neural basis oflanguage corresponds to a specializaüon of a preexisting neural network whose elaboration is perfectly compatible with natural selection. One additional issue that needs to be investigated is the relation between the increase in brain size and the development of cognitive and social skills in our species. Interestingly, most significant
cultural advances have occurred after our brain acquired its present size, perhaps indicating that, for a complex culture to occur and be transmitted to successive generations, some cognitive and linguistic threshold had to be crossed that may relate to the acquisition of a fully generative grammar.