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Retarded Development: The Evolutionary Mechanism Underlying the Emergence of the Human Capacity for Language

Sonia Ragir
The Journal of Mind and Behavior
Vol. 6, No. 4 (Autumn 1985), pp. 451-467
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43853186
Page Count: 17
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Retarded Development: The Evolutionary Mechanism Underlying the Emergence of the Human Capacity for Language
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Abstract

The emergence of the human capacity for language depends upon a profound slowing of the rate of human growth and maturation. The human infant matures more slowly than other apes. Motoric helplessness and an elaboration of vocal patterns of communication between infant and adult become the parameters within which the cortex matures. Changes in neural development, functioning and structure are inevitable given the changed conditions of growth. At least three major changes mark the context of infant development: the length of time during which neural development and maturation proceed; the nature of the mother-infant interaction during the prolonged period of juvenile dependency; and the size and complexity of the group into which the infant is integrated. The present paper explores the possibility that the human capacity for language emerges early in hominid evolution. However, I argue that a critical level of social complexity is necessary for the elaboration of this capacity into language and culture. Language emerges to reflect and schematize the patterns of an intangible social interaction.

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