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In the below video Noam Chomsky talks again about when language likely emerged. He notes that anatomically modern humans (AMH) are about 200,000 years old and claims there’s no evidence of symbolic behavior predating AMH.
He then claims that the San split-off from other AMH about 150 kya, and since they have language, Chomsky seems to be hinting that language emerged sometime between 200 kya and 150 kya. Perhaps 175 kya is a good guess.
There are a few potential challenges to Chomsky’s argument:
- Some scientists are now suggesting AMH might be 325,000 years old, not 200,000 years old.
- According to Greg Cochran, the split between Bantu and African pygmies was 300 kya, and since both these groups have language, this suggests language must be at least 300,000 years old (unless gene flow since the split explains why both groups have it). Although Peter Frost disagrees with Cochran.
- An engraving likely made by Neanderthals found in a cave in Gibraltar (and more recently, representational cave drawings of animals) implies AMH may not have been the only species capable of symbolic behavior. If Neanderthals also had this ability it suggests they may have inherited it from the common ancestor they share with us, implying symbolic behavior (and thus language) may be at least 700,000 years old.