The image below is a map of the world which shows the Out of Africa expansion of H. Sapiens at its various stages:
(click here for a larger image and full details).This all comes to confirm a very simple fact: ALL HUMANS COME FROM AFRICA, a sentence that racists and xenophobes should be reminded of from time to time.
Now, what about language?
In the scientific community there is no general agreement about which human or hominid species was the first one with a speech capacity. Was it a specific development or a mutation of H. Sapiens, or did modern humans just continue a pre-existing speech capacity of H. Erectus or other hominid species? On the other hand, it is not clear whether human language originated at a single location (monogenetic hypothesis) or more or less simultaneously in more than one place (polygenetic hypothesis). There’s a variety of proposals about these issues and a huge amount of research is being conducted involving archaeology, linguistics, paleoanthropology, genetics, neuro-science and other scientific disciplines. The most recent developments in this research seem to point in the direction of monogenesis. According to this view, which I share, the human language capacity was born with Homo Sapiens in Africa and it started to develop about 200,000 years before present. We know nothing about the possible ‘languages’ of the other hominid species (H. Erectus, H. Sapiens Neardentalensis, etc.), and we can only try to guess what kind of relationship there was between their communicative systems and the language of H. Sapiens Sapiens. But as I said, there’s strong evidence suggesting that human language as we know it was born as an innovation of the only hominid species that has survived until today: ours.
The emergence and expansion of the various language families (Nilo-Saharan, Altaic, Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, etc.) must be seen in the context of the Out of Africa migration of humans, that is, a process which began around 100,000 years ago. There is no evidence suggesting any other massive, transcontinental migration of humans at a later stage in pre-history, for example in Neolithic times. Traditional chronologies, like the one which sees the expansion of Proto-Indo-European in approximately 3,500 BC., are no longer tenable. They are based on wrong assumptions about language change and archaeology. Amazingly, this traditional chronology is still accepted in mainstream (historical) linguistics.
- BALLESTER, Xaverio (2002). Las Primeras Palabras de la Humanidad. Ediciones Tilde, Valencia.
- CHRISTIANSEN, Morten and KIRBY, Simon, eds. (2003). Language Evolution. OUP.
- SYKES, Bryan (2001). The Seven Daughters of Eve. W. W. Norton and Company.