Evolution, brain, and the nature of language

Trends Cogn Sci. 2013 Feb;17(2):89-98. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.12.002. Epub 2013 Jan 9.


Language serves as a cornerstone for human cognition, yet much about its evolution remains puzzling. Recent research on this question parallels Darwin's attempt to explain both the unity of all species and their diversity. What has emerged from this research is that the unified nature of human language arises from a shared, species-specific computational ability. This ability has identifiable correlates in the brain and has remained fixed since the origin of language approximately 100 thousand years ago. Although songbirds share with humans a vocal imitation learning ability, with a similar underlying neural organization, language is uniquely human.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Learning
  • Species Specificity