PIE vs. Proto-World (Out of Africa)

Larry Trask larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk
Mon Aug 23 14:09:33 UTC 1999

On Fri, 13 Aug 1999 X99Lynx at aol.com wrote:

> "Researchers have long believed that the ability to make modern human
> speech sounds did not develop until about 40,000 years ago."

*Some* researchers.  Not all, not most, not even -- I think -- a bare
majority.  Just some, and most of the ones I have encountered have been
anthropologists or archeologists, not linguists or biologists.

*Some* researchers, in fact, want to assign language to our hominid
ancestors, *Homo erectus*.  But, so far as I can judge, the majority
view is still that language most likely arose with our own species,
100,000-200,000 years ago.


> <<Given that the Australians had already reached Australia about
> 60,000 BP, that date would seem to be very wrong>>


> Why?  Who says those Australians had language at the time?  The two
> events have no necessary connection.

Given the apparent biological centrality of our language faculty, it is
for many of us exceedingly difficult to imagine biologically modern
human beings without language.

The case for the first emergence of fully modern languages only 40,000
or so years ago rests entirely, so far as I know, on a single argument:
the argument that human material culture underwent a great and rapid
flowering around that time, and that nothing other than the emergence of
language could explain that flowering.  But not everyone accepts that
the claimed dramatic flowering is real.  And, even if you do accept
this, it is far from clear that the emergence of language is the only
possible explanation.

> And Out of Africa could be just flat out dead wrong.

Yes, it could.  But the multiregional hypothesis requires that our
species should have emerged, not in a single location, but over a vast
area of the globe, by continued gene-flow.  And I have never heard of a
*single* other species which is known or believed to have originated in
such a way.  Has anybody else?

Multiregionalism has the consequence that the human species originated
in a unique manner, unparalleled by the emergence of any other known
species.  And I find this deeply unpalatable.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH

larryt at cogs.susx.ac.uk

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