Evolution of Language more complex than thought

February 18th, 2008 - 1:05 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, Feb 18 (ANI): Contrary to previous studies linking a gene to evolution of human speech, the development could be far more complex than is thought, says an expert.

Robert Berwick, professor of computational linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said that the mutations in a gene, Foxp2, playing a key role in the evolution of language are unlikely to be true.

This kind of straightforward connection is just not the way organisms are put together, he said.

When it comes to something as complex as language, one would be hard-pressed to come up with an example less amenable to evolutionary study, he added.

The specific Foxp2 connection is based on a whole chain of events, each of which is speculative, so theres little chance of the claims being right.

Previous studies showed that some mutations to the gene produce specific impairments to language use.

Berwick also believes that though language was almost certainly the result of a far more complex and subtle interplay among a variety of factors it may never be possible to connect it to specific genetic changes.

In the study, Berwick compared the structure of languages with the structure of bird songs, and found interesting connections that may lead to a better understanding of some aspects of language.

Both bird songs and all human languages seem to share some underlying characteristics related to their metrical structure, he said.

Theres an underlying sing-song beat that is pronounced in poetry, music and in the songs of birds that may reveal a fundamental aspect of how our brains process language, he added.

Berwick said that it is imperative to understand that language is something that takes place inside the human mind and is independent of any particular sound, sight or motion.

The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (ANI)

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