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Researchers: Human language circuits not “new”; they predate humans

nerve cell/zhu difeng, Fotolia

From ScienceDaily:

It has often been claimed that humans learn language using brain components that are specifically dedicated to this purpose. Now, new evidence strongly suggests that language is in fact learned in brain systems that are also used for many other purposes and even pre-existed humans, say researchers in PNAS (Early Edition online Jan. 29).

The research combines results from multiple studies involving a total of 665 participants. It shows that children learn their native language and adults learn foreign languages in evolutionarily ancient brain circuits that also are used for tasks as diverse as remembering a shopping list and learning to drive.

“Our conclusion that language is learned in such ancient general-purpose systems contrasts with the long-standing theory that language depends on innately-specified language modules found only in humans,” says the study’s senior investigator, Michael T. Ullman, PhD, professor of neuroscience at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“These brain systems are also found in animals — for example, rats use them when they learn to navigate a maze,” says co-author Phillip Hamrick, PhD, of Kent State University. “Whatever changes these systems might have undergone to support language, the fact that they play an important role in this critical human ability is quite remarkable.” Paper. (paywall) – Phillip Hamrick, Jarrad A. G. Lum, Michael T. Ullman. Child first language and adult second language are both tied to general-purpose learning systems. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201713975 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1713975115 More.

All the odder then that the rats never learned to talk. Evolution is becoming quite messy.

See also: Linguist: Further thoughts on how agency is embedded in language


Can we talk? Language as the business end of consciousness

An FPU is used for tax spreadsheets and game physics. Its original intended purpose may have been singular or varied, but was surely adapted to new uses as they appeared. It's also "evolutionarily ancient"/"highly conserved". It was designed. How can we put Darwin's Dangerous Idea on par with, or even beyond actual engineers; societies of engineers, even; without simply assuming it to be so and presenting everything thusly? Highly integrated functionality and module reuse is a part of a good design. Integration can also present more of a challenge against evolution, i.e. make it less likely, as the modification of systems stops being one-to-one and becomes one-to-many or even many-to-many. It constrains further adaptation, as side effects from modification evolve from a slight dusting to a catastrophic avalanche, in every direction. LocalMinimum
Evolution is the idea that earlier functionality not specific to a current problem is varied in a way that is random to that problem and results in some new functionality to solve it. Existing functionality is hijacked to perform some useful new function it wasn't designed for in the fist place. This is an example of just this. critical rationalist

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