A wild 50,000-year ride

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The study of languages in prehistory critically involves the ever changing sound patterns of human languages, in short speech. Speech is the default medium for language, and it most likely has a long evolutionary history. However, the fully human speech anatomy which allows us to produce the most common, “universal” vowels [i], [u] and [a], first appears in the fossil record in the Upper Paleolithic (about 50,000 years ago) and was absent in both Neanderthals and earlier humans. Recent genetic evidence also suggests the appearance of the neural substrate that is necessary to regulate human speech within the past 100,000 years. Thus, we have had a wild ride – creating thousands of languages since the Upper Paleolithic start-point for fully human linguistic capacity.


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