Chapter 4: The Biological Basis of Language
- Understand the nature of human language and animal communication.
- Describe the defining features of human language.
- Describe the neuroanatomy of language in the human brain.
- Understand the concept of linguistic relativity and the evidence for and against it.
As you may have heard, two people heard the humming noise of ducks and started an argument over whether the sound came from the air passing through their beak or their wings. The chief calls a great council to settle the matter. The people from all the nearby villages attend and again they argue and cannot agree. Eventually, the argument leads to some people moving far from this land and they began to speak differently. Eventually, other languages formed and we cannot understand each other.
A tale from the Salishan (Boas, 1917)
Long ago, Taikomol, He who goes alone, made the earth from a piece of coiled basket. Taikomol the creator walked with Coyote throughout the land. The creator laid out sticks at night which turned into people upon daybreak. As Taikomol made different people, they were given different customs, modes of life and a different language. Finally, the creator ascended to the sky where he still is.
A take from the Yuki people of California (Kroeber, 1907)
These stories show us the centrality of language to human existence. All human societies have developed stories about the origins of language and how it is linked to their identity. We will explore some of the ideas about human language, its origins and current views on the biological basis of language in this chapter.