School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA
Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan
The question of how humans got language is crucial for understanding the uniqueness of the human mind and the cognitive resources and processes shared with nonhuman species. We discuss the origin of symbolic elements in hominins and how a pragmatic grammar emerged from action-based event-structures. In the context of comparative neurobiological findings, we report support for the global workspace hypothesis and social brain hypothesis. In addition, reverse linguistic analysis informs us about the particular role of a pragmatic grammar stage. We assume that this stage was associated with changes to the hominin genotype. Homo erectus may have used a pragmatic grammar which consisted of two or three symbolic elements. Extended syntax and morphology, including hierarchical branching, are not based on genotype changes but may reflect cultural accumulations related to socioecological adaptations. We conclude that the biological capacity for language may have emerged already 1.8 million years ago with the appearance of genus Homo.