Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

© Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. This chapter contends that language could have originated as a device for bonding in large social groups. Grooming is the mechanism of choice among primates to bond social groups, but human social groups tend to be too large for grooming to bond them effectively. Based on this account, language emerged as a form of grooming-at-a-distance, which is reflected in the large amount of time typically spent verbally 'servicing' social relationships. The use of primate-like vocalisations in chorusing-a kind of communal singing-was a key intermediate step in the evolution of language. Once such cooperative use of vocalisations was in place, grammar could then emerge through processes of natural selection. This standard Darwinian perspective finds support from recent mathematical game theory modelling of language evolution. In addition, language has the extraordinary capacity to diversify into new dialects and distinct languages, suggesting that this property of language may have evolved to make it easier for members of social groups to identify each other, Thus, the social origin of language can explain both the origin and subsequent diversification of language.

Original publication





Book title

Language Evolution

Publication Date