Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tell it to the hand!

Carl Zimmer at the Loom talks about recent results in the search for the origin of language. The idea that language might have had its origins in hand gestures and specifically with a class of neurons called mirror cells, is gaining in popularity. In a special issue of Forbes Carl turns the tables back to voice communication as the evolutionary material for the emergence of language. Carl's contention in the main of the article is that primatologists may have excessively focussed on hand gestures of chimps, since recent evidence is that their vocalizations also contain a great deal of social communication.

Representing the defense, in the same issue of Forbes, is Desmond Morris (link is to Dienekes' discussion). Morris talks about the magisterial use of hand gestures as a supplement to vocalization in Southern Mediterranean cultures. (He neglects to mention honking the car horn.) From my own experience, there must be thirty hand motions which all indicate to a person that his presence is no longer required, with varying degrees of implication toward the ancestry, mental health status, and sexual proclivities of the addressee. As Dienekes says, a phylogeny is clearly needed.

Sounds like a great issue of Forbes.

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