Language: The missing selection pressure

Jean-Louis Dessalles

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/ths.2020.001

Abstract


Human beings are talkative. What advantage did their ancestors find in communicating so much? Numerous authors consider this advantage to be “obvious” and “enormous”. If so, the problem of the evolutionary emergence of language amounts to explaining why none of the other primate species evolved anything even remotely similar to language. I propose to reverse the picture. On closer examination, language resembles a losing strategy. Competing for providing other individuals with information, sometimes striving to be heard, makes apparently no sense within a Darwinian framework. At face value, language as we can observe it should never have existed or should have been counter-selected. In other words, the selection pressure that led to language is still missing. The solution I propose consists in regarding language as a social signaling device that developed in a context of generalized insecurity that is unique to our species. By talking, individuals advertise their alertness and their ability to get informed. This hypothesis is shown to be compatible with many characteristics of language that otherwise are left unexplained.

Keywords


altruism; conversation; evolution; language; relevance; social display; social signals

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References


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