Playing with language, creating complexity: has play contributed to the evolution of complex language?

Michelle C Langley*, Antonio Benítez-Burraco, Vera Kempe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

We argue that enhanced play may have contributed to the emergence of complex language systems in modern humans (Homo sapiens). To support this idea, we first discuss evidence for an expansion of playing behavior connected to the extended childhood of modern human children, and the potential of this period for the transmission of complex cultural traits, including language. We then link two of the most important functions of play-exploration and innovation-to the potential for cumulative cultural evolution in general and for the emergence of complex language in particular. If correct, the shorter childhood of Neanderthals-involving restrictions on time to experiment and innovate-may have restricted their language (and other symbolic) system/s. Consequently, fully investigating the role that play may have had in the transmission of language and the development of symbolic cultures in both modern humans and Neanderthals provides a new avenue of research for Paleolithic archaeology and related disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalEvolutionary Anthropology
Early online date5 Dec 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Dec 2019

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language
playing behavior
childhood
role play
archaeology
innovation
experiment
evidence
time

Cite this

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title = "Playing with language, creating complexity: has play contributed to the evolution of complex language?",
abstract = "We argue that enhanced play may have contributed to the emergence of complex language systems in modern humans (Homo sapiens). To support this idea, we first discuss evidence for an expansion of playing behavior connected to the extended childhood of modern human children, and the potential of this period for the transmission of complex cultural traits, including language. We then link two of the most important functions of play-exploration and innovation-to the potential for cumulative cultural evolution in general and for the emergence of complex language in particular. If correct, the shorter childhood of Neanderthals-involving restrictions on time to experiment and innovate-may have restricted their language (and other symbolic) system/s. Consequently, fully investigating the role that play may have had in the transmission of language and the development of symbolic cultures in both modern humans and Neanderthals provides a new avenue of research for Paleolithic archaeology and related disciplines.",
author = "Langley, {Michelle C} and Antonio Ben{\'i}tez-Burraco and Vera Kempe",
year = "2019",
month = "12",
day = "5",
doi = "10.1002/evan.21810",
language = "English",
journal = "Evolutionary Anthropology",
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}

Playing with language, creating complexity : has play contributed to the evolution of complex language? / Langley, Michelle C; Benítez-Burraco, Antonio; Kempe, Vera.

In: Evolutionary Anthropology, 05.12.2019.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

TY - JOUR

T1 - Playing with language, creating complexity

T2 - has play contributed to the evolution of complex language?

AU - Langley, Michelle C

AU - Benítez-Burraco, Antonio

AU - Kempe, Vera

PY - 2019/12/5

Y1 - 2019/12/5

N2 - We argue that enhanced play may have contributed to the emergence of complex language systems in modern humans (Homo sapiens). To support this idea, we first discuss evidence for an expansion of playing behavior connected to the extended childhood of modern human children, and the potential of this period for the transmission of complex cultural traits, including language. We then link two of the most important functions of play-exploration and innovation-to the potential for cumulative cultural evolution in general and for the emergence of complex language in particular. If correct, the shorter childhood of Neanderthals-involving restrictions on time to experiment and innovate-may have restricted their language (and other symbolic) system/s. Consequently, fully investigating the role that play may have had in the transmission of language and the development of symbolic cultures in both modern humans and Neanderthals provides a new avenue of research for Paleolithic archaeology and related disciplines.

AB - We argue that enhanced play may have contributed to the emergence of complex language systems in modern humans (Homo sapiens). To support this idea, we first discuss evidence for an expansion of playing behavior connected to the extended childhood of modern human children, and the potential of this period for the transmission of complex cultural traits, including language. We then link two of the most important functions of play-exploration and innovation-to the potential for cumulative cultural evolution in general and for the emergence of complex language in particular. If correct, the shorter childhood of Neanderthals-involving restrictions on time to experiment and innovate-may have restricted their language (and other symbolic) system/s. Consequently, fully investigating the role that play may have had in the transmission of language and the development of symbolic cultures in both modern humans and Neanderthals provides a new avenue of research for Paleolithic archaeology and related disciplines.

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