Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 22 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This article explains the evolution of human language and the brain. There are many ways organisms can adapt to moving targets. One of the ways is genetic evolution, when natural selection acts on variation in the population, selecting against those alleles that provide the least fit to the environment. The second way is by utilizing the phenotypic plasticity of a genotype. The third way is by means of systems and organs, which have evolved to cope with fast-changing environments and which have genetic underpinnings also. A set of genes can give rise to different phenotypes depending on the environment in which development takes place. The phenomenon, phenotypic plasticity, may be adaptive in species with variable environments. When natural selection acts to preserve adaptive phenotypes, it can lead to genetic change and to the fixation of specific phenotypes within a population by several evolutionary processes, including the Baldwin effect and genetic assimilation. The human brain is a very specific organ selected for the ability to track fast-changing parts of the relevant environment, which for hominins also included the linguistic environment. The human brain is highly efficient when it comes to language acquisition and production and is more efficient than any other known brain or artificial computing mechanisms.

Keywords: natural selection, linguistic environment, genetic evolution, phenotypic plasticity, adaptive phenotypes

Access to the complete content on Oxford Handbooks Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can''t find the answer there, please contact us.