Posts Tagged ‘FOXP2’

The need to communicate leads to the development of language

October 21, 2011

The origin of language was once a forbidden subject and in 1866, the Linguistic Society of Paris went so far as to ban debates on the subject – because it was considered too speculative to be a matter for serious people! But I find the question fascinating. When and how language developed remains a mystery. But with communication and language being such a clear measure of the distinction between humans and other primates, it seems obvious that there must be some genetic basis for this difference.

The “Language Gene” Turns Ten

Ten years ago this month, a team of University of Oxford scientists published a description of a family who struggled with words. By comparing their DNA, the scientists zeroed in for the first time on a gene associated with language, dubbed FOXP2.

Genetic evidence suggests that the basis of language appeared among hominids prior to the evolutionary split that gave rise to Homo neanderthalensis.  Having the genetic wherewithal for having language does not of course prove that hominids had language 400,000 years ago. But I would suggest that the need for a particular characteristic (whether for survival or merely for coping better with the prevailing environment) itself predisposes for those factors which enable the correct expression of the relevant genes to enhance the characteristic. And this leads to the role that epigenetics and the inheritance of factors controlling gene expression – rather than mutations of the genome – may have had in the development of language.

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