The Co-Evolution of Music and Language

Steven Mithen, University of Reading

Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said that nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution. The same applies to spoken language: unless we explore its evolutionary basis we will be unable to gain an adequate understanding of its characteristics today. Recent research in the comparative studies of communication, neuroscience and on the fossil and archaeological record, has resurrected an idea proposed in the 19th century that there was a co-evolution of music and language. It is argued that these emerged from what had been a single ancient form of vocal and gestural communication, with this explaining some of the shared properties of language and music today. This talk will provide an overview of this proposal, focusing on the evidence from the archaeological and fossil records for how our human ancestors communicated with each other and the implications this may have for speech prosody and other characteristics of language today.