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Striking Discovery Suggests Human Language Emerged Over 25 Million Years Ago 

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The power of the word stands the test of time through story-telling and passing down of cultural beliefs. While language has been a part of the modern-human identity for thousands of years, there is still an iceberg’s worth of mystery beneath its origin. As scientists rely on fossils for scientific study, the place language resides is in the brain which doesn’t preserve the same way as bones do. In order to get a deeper look at the origins of human language, scientists turn to our closest living cousins—chimpanzees and macaques. 

 

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed brain scans from both humans and monkeys. In the study, authors “identified homologous pathways originating from the auditory cortex,” according to the journal Nature Neuroscience.

 

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In humans, speech exists within the arcuate fasciculus (AF), which spans the prefrontal cortex and the temporal lobe. Brain scans showed a similar, yet less produced pathway in macaques and chimps. Throughout the process of evolution, these findings show there was a split in how the pathway progressed. 

Tractography of arcuate fasciculus via Inverse

Tractography of arcuate fasciculus via Inverse

The authors argue our system for language seems to have moved away from relying so heavily on the auditory pathway, involving more temporal and parietal areas of the brain, according to Science Alert.

 

This new information poses a controversial, yet exciting opportunity to delve deeper in a previously assumed notion. Where scientists once believed this pathway developed in the human brain 5 million years ago, new observations suggest an emergence of at least 25 million years ago from our shared ancestor of the macaques.

Humans last shared a common ancestor with macaques

Humans last shared a common ancestor with macaques

Much of the controversy around this topic is due to the fact that a majority of scientists believe the human language pathway can only be studied in humans, Christopher Pektov, professor of comparative neuropsychology tells Inverse. A change in perspective and approach to a long-held belief offers refreshing insights and the possibility of uncovering more about ourselves. Other scientists suggest these findings may also serve as a tool when approaching language as a healing modality for stroke patients.

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“Language can be spoken, written, or signed, but if some of these pathways are more or less intact, that might provide a venue for a more accurate prognosis of language recovery and new ideas on rehabilitation to improve language abilities,” Petkov says.

 

Additional Resources:

 

https://www.nature.com/articles/nn2072

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5880940/

https://www.sciencealert.com/controversial-discovery-in-monkeys-pushes-the-origin-of-human-language-back-25-million-years

https://www.inverse.com/science/human-language-pathway-at-least-25-million-years-old

 

 

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