Talk given to the Radical Anthropology Group at Daryll Forde Seminar Room, UCL Anthropology Building, 14 Taviton St, off Gordon Sq., London WC1H 0BW on 4 February 2020
Chris Knight, Camilla Power, Jerome Lewis and other members of their team have long been working on a new and revolutionary theory to explain the evolution of language in our species. In order to reconstruct how speech first evolved, they piece together the wider context in which it must have emerged. After all, language was not invented by farmers or city-dwellers, but by people who lived by hunting and gathering in Africa. To solve the mystery, they abandon the idea that language can be explained without reference to the many other things which make us human. In this spirit, they embed their insights in a ground-breaking wider theory which focuses on uniquely human patterns of cooperative childcare together with laughter, song, dance and playful ritual. Finally, they attribute the overarching atmosphere of trust required by language to the toppling of primate-style dominance and the remarkable political achievement of egalitarianism.