Scientists find ‘missing link’ behind early human languages

New research shows for the first time that whatever language humans speak, it recognizes the intended meaning of symbolic vocalizations, the basic sounds people make to represent a particular object, entity, or action. It was.

According to the researchers, these vocalizations, such as snoring to represent sleep and roaring to represent a tiger, may have played an important role in the development of human first language.

This finding contrasts with previous assumptions that gestures and physical signals favored the development of human language.

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“People all over the world were very good at guessing the meaning of these different utterances, regardless of their linguistic or cultural background,” said Marcus, senior author and linguist at the University of Birmingham in the UK.・ Pearlman told Live Science. “It can have a big impact on how the spoken language got off to a good start.”

Symbolic vocalization

In an online experiment, the researchers exposed 843 participants, who speak 25 different languages, to symbolic vocalizations that represent the 30 key meanings of early human survival. Participants then had to match the sound to one of the six words, including the intended meaning.

The intended meaning of vocalization has been grouped into six main categories: animation entities (children, men, women,). tiger, Snake, deer), Inanimate (knife, fire, stone, water, meat, fruit), behavior (picking up, cooking, hiding, cutting, hitting, hunting, eating, sleeping), characteristics (dull, sharp, big, small, good, bad) ), Quantifier (one, many), demonstrative (this, that).

The researchers obtained these statements through an online competition where, in return for prizes, people could submit basic sounds that they thought best represented different words. Everyone who submitted the statement spoke English.

In the experiment, people had an average 64.6% chance of determining the meaning of these statements. The most recognizable statement was that of “sleep,” which people identified with 98.6% accuracy. The least recognized was the empirical “it” with an accuracy of 34.5%, which was still well above the accidentally expected 16.7% (1/6).

In general, people understood statements of actions and entities better than properties and demonstratives. “These recognizable sounds [actions and entities] Maybe it’s related to these meanings across cultures, ”Perman said.

Of the 25 languages ​​spoken by the participants, the speakers of 20 languages ​​correctly guessed the meaning of each statement. Speakers of four languages ​​guessed for all but one, and speakers of other languages ​​guessed for all but two. Least accurate language speakers averaged 52.1% of Thai, and top performing language speakers averaged 74.1% of English.

In a second small field experiment, including only 12 of the most basic vocalizations, such as the native Amazon rainforest Paricule, people who used the spoken language without a formal writing system were also photographed. By pointing, I showed my understanding of vocalization. The correct meaning after hearing them. They managed to say the meaning without written or verbal prompts, far beyond what was expected by chance.

Previously, researchers assumed that human language was developed using symbolic gestures and other physical signals, such as arm movements to mimic the movement of a snake. Perlman said. According to this theory, after communicating with gestures, the first humans gradually added spoken language that replaced these physical signals.

“It makes sense,” Perlman said. “If you are going to a country that does not speak this language, the intuitive way of communicating is to indicate what you are trying to express.”

However, our ability to interpret the meaning of symbolic utterances suggests that humans may not have required physical gestures to compose words. Instead, vocalization was the first component of language, after which physical gestures could have been added to individual words, Perlman said.

However, not all researchers agree with this idea.

“A more compelling debate about the role of symbolic expression in language evolution comes from manual gestures,” said Michael Corballis, language evolution psychologist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. . Said to. “Sign language has more obvious symbolic elements than speech,” but “more evidence of symbolic elements in human speech,” Corvallis said.

In reality, it will take hundreds if not thousands of years to develop a first language, and the combination of vocalization and gestures is likely to have played a role, Perlman said. “We have hands and voices,” Perlman said. “And we’ve communicated with both for millions of years.”

“I agree that the multimodal origin is the most plausible,” Michael Arbib, linguistics expert and computational neuroscientist at the University of South Carolina, told Live Science. “Some entities have a distinct sound in their origin which favors the use of sound symbols, but many other entities are more respectful of pantomime.”

But it’s hard to say exactly which came first, just like the chicken or the egg comes first: vocalizations or gestures.

“The next step is to see if people can understand the sounds produced by people with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds,” said Perlman, Beyond English-speaking sounds. Further research “will explore more complex meanings and vocalizations,” Perlman said to see how early humans developed the first language from these sounds.

Future research will need to compare vocalizations and gestures to see how much they overlap and which words suit each type of communication, according to Arbib.

According to Perlman, it is important to understand the origin of human language, because language is a very fundamental part of the meaning of being human. “He talks about the human condition, our history, our relationship to the world around us and the essence of who we are.”

This study was published online in the journal on May 12. Scientific report..

Originally published in Live Science.

Scientists find ‘missing link’ behind early human languages Scientists find ‘missing link’ behind early human languages

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