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Why are humans the only species to have language?

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Humans are the only species to have fully fledged language. Why should this be so? I shall argue that language (and speech) evolved to facilitate social bonding in social groups that became too large to bond by the usual primate mechanism (social grooming). Hence, in contrast to most traditional views (that language evolved to make technical communication possible – the “this is how you make a stone tool” version of language), I argue that language has a primarily social function (the “gossip” theory of language evolution). I suggest that this explains many otherwise rather odd features of how we use language in everyday contexts.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society series.

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