This book explores the origin and evolution of speech. The human speech
system is in a league of its own in the animal kingdom and its possession
dwarfs most other evolutionary achievements. During every second of speech
we unconsciously use about 225 distinct muscle actions. To investigate the
evolutionary origins of this prodigious ability, Peter MacNeilage draws on
work in linguistics, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and animal
behaviour. He puts forward a neo-Darwinian account of speech as a process
of descent in which ancestral vocal capabilities became modified in
response to natural selection pressures for more efficient communication.
His proposals include the crucial observation that present-day infants
learning to produce speech reveal constraints that were acting on our
ancestors as they invented new words long ago.
This important and original investigation integrates the latest research on
modern speech capabilities, their acquisition, and their neurobiology,
including the issues surrounding the cerebral hemispheric specialization
for speech. It will interest a wide range of readers in cognitive, neuro-,
and evolutionary science, as well as all those seeking to understand the
nature and evolution of speech and human communication.