How the brain got language: The mirror system hypothesis
Language is a unique feature of human beings. In addition to having the ability to use language, humans can conjecture about language consciously and even create realistic constructed languages from scratch. In How the brain got language, Michael A. Arbib, whose work has been influential in shaping the field of computational neuroscience, addresses the title question by exploring the multimodality of language and the Mirror System Hypothesis.
Arbib, a pioneering scientist who links computer science and neuroscience, argues in this volume that an interdisciplinary approach is needed to solve the problem of language evolution as it is “a puzzle of many pieces” (p. 4). He proposes an approach to the question of language evolution that differs from that of other linguists. He hypothesizes that language perception and production emerged from brain mechanisms that evolved to mediate practical non-communicative actions. This stands in contrast to the “speech-only” view of language evolution held by many scholars who consider the evolution from monkey vocalizations to human speech to be “purely in the vocal-auditory domain, without any role for gesture” (p. 179). He specifically argues for the importance of manual gestures for the evolution of the language-ready brain; these processes equipped early Homo Sapiens with the brain mechanisms that allow modern humans to learn languages.
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