Language and Communication

jess tauber phonosemantics at
Fri Apr 27 16:07:39 UTC 2007

Though you might have to admit, Steve, that the private language of twins is an interesting case that could possibly relate to language origins. In such a case one has genetically near-identical (near because of genetic changes that occur somatically after the twins split) entities which invent their own communicative system. Twins in the same environment are likely to share much in the way of points of view, personality, etc. that therefore don't have to be negotiated around (even if they will likely differentiate as they get older). I would imagine that social insect communication as in wasps, ants, and bees is like this to some extent, since worker sisters are very close genetically.

As for how this might relate to the human story, consider that humans have 46 chromosomes, while all extant apes (including our nearest relatives the chimps and bonobos) have 48. There would have to have been a major chromosomal fusion event, which would make it much more likely that nearest relatives would have had to be mated, since big problems would occur if normal 48'ers tried their luck with 46'ers (or rather the haploid numbers of 24 vs. 23).

There have been, in addition, major inversion events as well between humans and apes, where large chunks of genetic material have been turned end for end on chromosomes, which doesn't much disrupt function (though regulation will change), yet again will cause issues when nonidentical varieties are aligned after mating. So more likely nearest relatives will get the job done again.

As with *identical* twins, nearest relatives will share a great deal that might facilitate the development of a communication system a bit less fully developed than modern languages, yet more so than the usual systems found in genetically diverse populations of conspecifics.  And we know that the founder populations of modern humans went through a tight genetic bottleneck. How many times has this happened?

Major genetic events might also have disrupted existing communicative systems as those that are found in extant apes- could such event have created communicative saltations? Opened up the systems for learning rather than instinct, moving control to the cortex? Might it be that it is not primarily the brain that could be *modular* in this regard, but the genome itself?

It would be very interesting to see what kind of communication APE twins would come up with.

Jess Tauber
phonosemantics at

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