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The Origins of Language.

This book was an attempt to synthesize various sources of information–neurobiological,
psychological, archeological and anthropological, among others–about our cognitive origins, in
the belief that the human mind co-evolved in close interaction with both brain and culture. I
should make clear from the start that I have no illusions about my ability to become expert in all
of the disciplines touched on by this enterprise; accordingly my effort should be regarded with
suspicion by all; at best, it will probably prove to be no more than a guide to some of the
important questions that remain to be settled. This precis focuses on my core theory and
disregards most of the background material reviewed at length in the book itself.
My central hypothesis is that there were three major cognitive transformations by which
the modern human mind emerged over several million years, starting with a complex of skills
presumably resembling those of the chimpanzee. These transformations left, on the one hand,
three new, uniquely human systems of memory representation, and on the other, three
interwoven layers of human culture, each supported by its corresponding set of representations. I
agree with multilevel evolutionary theorists like Plotkin (1988) who believe that selection
pressures at this stage of human evolution were ultimately expressed and tested on the
sociocultural level; hence I have described the evolutionary scenario as a series of cultural
adaptations, even though individual cognition was really where the main event was taking place,
since it provides the linkage between physical and cultural evolution.
In one sense the proposed evolutionary sequence is an exercise in interpolation not unlike
many other efforts that have attempted to construct a credible case for the emergence of
particular morphological and behavioral features in various species. But in another it is a
structural theory that confronts the question of how many processing levels must be interposed
between the nonsymbolic cognitions of animals, and the fully symbolic representations of
humans. Symbolic representation is the principal cognitive signature of humans, and the main
phenomenon whose arrival on the scene has to be accounted for in any scenario of human
evolution.
The