Dual Neural Network Model for the Evolution of Speech and Language

Trends Neurosci. 2016 Dec;39(12):813-829. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2016.10.006. Epub 2016 Nov 22.


Explaining the evolution of speech and language poses one of the biggest challenges in biology. We propose a dual network model that posits a volitional articulatory motor network (VAMN) originating in the prefrontal cortex (PFC; including Broca's area) that cognitively controls vocal output of a phylogenetically conserved primary vocal motor network (PVMN) situated in subcortical structures. By comparing the connections between these two systems in human and nonhuman primate brains, we identify crucial biological preadaptations in monkeys for the emergence of a language system in humans. This model of language evolution explains the exclusiveness of non-verbal communication sounds (e.g., cries) in infants with an immature PFC, as well as the observed emergence of non-linguistic vocalizations in adults after frontal lobe pathologies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Primates
  • Speech*