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The Evolution of Human Communication and Language

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Thom Scott Phillips
1/5/15
The Evolution of Human Communication and Language
Language is arguably humanity's most distinctive characteristic. What, exactly, is language, and why are we the only species that has it? In this talk, based upon my recent book*, I will argue that the differences between human communication and the communication systems of all other species is probably not a difference of degree, but rather one of kind. Language is a system made possible by mechanisms of metapsychology, and expressively powerful by mechanisms of association. Non-human primate communication is most likely the opposite: made possible by mechanisms of association, and expressively powerful by mechanisms of metapsychology. This conclusion suggests that human communication, and hence language, evolved as a by-product of increased social intelligence. As such, human communication may be best seen, from an evolutionary perspective, as a particularly sophisticated form of social cognition: mutually-assisted mindreading and mental manipulation.