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Jon Hellevig
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Evolution of Speech
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Evolution of Speech

We need to recognize that speech (the ability to speak) has evolved, but language the social practice, cannot be said to have evolved. A social practice such as language does not evolve in the proper sense of the word; or, if we want to use the word 'evolution' also in regards to 'language' and other social practices, then we have to realize that we are using the same verbal symbol in two different senses. By evolution of biological organisms (biological evolution) we refer to changes in the genetic endowment of living organisms corresponding to gene expressions, which in all offspring results in an anatomy, organs and organic process patterns, which in all essential aspects are predetermined by the genetic endowment. Whereas biological evolution signifies a change in the external and internal form of an organism, social evolution signifies merely perceived changes in human behavior.

This evolution of the ability to speak has been a gradual process of converging interdependent and intertwined organic processes to which I refer with the principle of unity and interdependency of organic processes and which I have depicted by the hermeneutical evolutionary spiral. There has been no one point in the history of life or mankind or apehood, where we could proclaim that the ability to speak had emerged and the social practice of language could be said to have been formed. Gradually and imperceptibly over millions of years some apelike animals have evolved and become bipedal by which change the anatomy of their vocal tracts have changed so that they could master the skill of consciously articulating refined sounds. This evolution of the anatomy has proceed in pace with a change in habits so that in a hermeneutical spiral change in anatomy, biology, and the neural system have corresponded with changes in social habits. In these processes the ability to conceptualize experience has evolved with the ability to make and interpret symbolic bodily expressions that correspond to the conceptualized experience. Speech and the ability to speak represent the culmination of these gradual genetic evolutionary processes.



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