The Gestural Origins of Language

  • Michael C. Corballis


The idea that language evolved from manual gestures dates at least to the philosopher (1971/1746), but was revived in modern format by (1973). The idea was controversial at the time, and remains so, but it continues to be advocated, and appears to have gained increasing acceptance (e.g., Arbib 2005; Armstrong 1999; Armstrong et al. 1995; Corballis 2002; Givòn 1979; Rizzolatti and Arbib 1998; Ruben 2005). From an evolutionary point of view, the idea makes some sense, since nonhuman primates have little if any cortical control over vocalization, but excellent cortical control over the hands and arms. Attempts over the past half-century to teach our closest nonhuman relatives, the great apes, to speak have been strikingly unsuccessful, but relatively good progress has been made toward teaching them to communicate by a form of sign language (Gardner and Gardner 1969), or by using visual symbols on a keyboard (Savage-Rumbaugh et al. 1998). These visual forms of communication scarcely resemble the grammatical language of modern humans, but they are a considerable advance over the paucity of speech sounds that these animals can make. The human equivalents of primate vocalizations are probably emotionally-based sounds like laughing, crying, grunting, or shrieking, rather than words.


Sign Language American Sign Mirror System Language Disorder FOXP2 Gene 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael C. Corballis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Private Bag 92019University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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