September 18, 2023 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionists Try to Get Language from Ape Grunts

Vocalization without conceptualization:
can you speak without thinking?


Everything is simple to a Darwinist who doesn’t think hard.
Ape grunts led to human language, say four Darwinists.


Vocal functional flexibility in the grunts of young chimpanzees (Taylor et al., iScience, 30 Aug 2023). Here are the key findings of a team of four evolutionists from Europe:

  • Most immature chimpanzee call types are stereotyped in how they are produced.
  • Grunts were flexibly expressed and showed a corresponding flexibility in function.
  • A key developmental foundation for language appears rooted in our primate ancestry.

It’s true that many people speak without thinking. That aphorism, however, signals that people should think before they speak. The language may vary between English, Japanese, Armenian, Latin, or Sanskrit, but the uniquely human capacity for language begins with thought, not with vocalization. That’s why humans can communicate without vocalizing: by typing, hand signaling, and even whistling. Semantics precedes vocalization. Concepts, William Dembski writes in Being as Communion, are “multiply realizable.” The same sentence “I Love You” can be communicated in beach sand, in skywriting, electronically through space by email, in Morse Code with lights, or in any one of the 7,000+ known human languages. Humans can invent new words for new concepts. By thoughtful consideration, geneticists might decide that “transposon” means a genetic element that can move around in a genome. The idea preceded the concoction of the word.

Language Is More than Stimulus and Response

Animals can learn Pavlovian responses to stimuli. Think about your dog. It can whimper to go for a walk, bark cheerfully when its human arrives home, and growl at a competitor. It can learn to roll over and yip for a treat or howl to music. But is it thinking about the concepts involved? Many fallacious studies on animal cognition have been done with horses, dogs, parrots and monkeys. Some red-faced scientists were caught giving nonverbal cues that the animal associated with a reward. Parrots can develop a remarkable “vocabulary” but are only mimicking the sounds that their owners make (for amazement, watch Clover perform here). Apes, too, can hoot and holler in a variety of ways, mimicking human watchers, associating behaviors with rewards. None of these animals are thinking about it. That’s a major difference between me, thee, and the chimpanzee.

These evolutionists get the cart before the horse. They think that grunts in apes preceded thought. Looking at the summary of their paper, can these four evolutionists really get from their last sentence to the first sentence?

All living things communicate yet only humans can be said to communicate using language. How this came to be the case is a fundamental mystery unsolved by contemporary science. Within a human lifetime, language emerges from a complex developmental process. As such, understanding chimpanzee vocal development is essential to understanding the evolutionary roots of language. In human development, language is directly built upon the early capacity for “vocal functional flexibility”—the ability to flexibly express the same vocalizations in different ways to achieve different functions. Primate vocalizations, by contrast, have long been believed to be relatively inflexible regarding both production and function. In this paper, we break new ground by providing evidence for vocal functional flexibility in one of the first systematic studies of early chimpanzee vocal production and function. This finding implies the developmental foundations for language are rooted in our primate evolutionary heritage.

They waltz into the fantasyland of the “evolutionary perspective,” forgetting that perspective is the foundation of thought. (It is impossible to understand the meaning of a perspective apart from thought.) Using language, they bastardize language into a series of glorified grunts.

They focus on development of the vocal apparatus in human infants and in baby chimps. Then they concentrate on associations of vocalizations with “functions” (“the ability to flexibly express the same vocalizations in different ways to achieve different functions”) such as pronouncing a grunt one way to get scratched, and pronouncing it a different way to express pleasure or pain. These examples of “vocal functional flexibility” are simple associations of vocalizations with rewards. They are not thoughts. They are not indicative of a path from apes to humans. Some scientists believe that crows, parrots, and dolphins are more intelligent than chimpanzees. Why don’t they propose that humans evolved from those animals? Clearly it would not fit Darwin’s phylogenetic narrative.

The Missing Think

Nowhere do these evolved apes (i.e., the four authors) use the words semantics, syntax, abstract thought, or concept. It’s all about vocalization and function: if the chimp grunts one way, it gets a reward. If it grunts another way, it gets a different reward. There are no sentences. There are no paragraphs. There are no abstract concepts. Like so many researchers who have fooled themselves in the past, the authors  anthropomorphize the animals, personifying them as wannabee humans climbing the evolutionary ladder, taking initial steps with their “grunts, whimpers, laughs, screams, and hoo calls.”

Well, chimpanzees have had millions of years to think about conceptualizing their grunts, but they are still chimpanzees.

Evolution of language-relevant brain areas uncovered (Max Planck Institute, 18 Sept 2023). The “missing think” was evident in another study led by the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Researchers found an area in the brain called Broca’s region, particularly a subregion named area 44, that is enlarged in humans compared to chimpanzees.

Guillermo Gallardo, lead author of the study, describes the researchers’ initial motivation: “Given the genetic and neuroanatomical similarity with our close living relatives, the chimpanzees.  the crucial question was: What is the biological basis driving our large differences in language ability? Broca’s area, an area which we share with chimpanzees and is responsible for syntax in the human brain, seemed like a good candidate to take a deeper look into.”

To uncover the mystery of language formation, the researchers used advanced algorithms to precisely compare two areas defined by their tissue composition, called 44 and 45, covering Broca’s region in the left and right hemispheres of the human and chimpanzee brain. Angela Friederici explains the results: “It turned out that only area 44 in the left hemisphere was expanded in humans compared to chimpanzees. Interestingly, this is exactly the area known to be responsible for syntactic processes in humans. We now assume that during evolution, the expansion of a particular subpart of Broca’s region, namely brain area 44, may be at the root of the language ability in humans.”

An assumption falls short of scientific rigor. This particular assumption is a non-sequitur. It would mean that grown of some material neurons gave humans the ability to form meaningful sentences expressing concepts. How does that follow? Do clumps of neurons have the power to generate philosophy? If that were the case, the scientists’ own thoughts are not grounded in anything that can be proved with logic or evidence, because it is grounded in material accidents. The assumption defeats itself.

The story of monkeys and typewriters bears repeating. Thomas Huxley famously proposed that a million monkeys typing on a million typewriters could reproduce the works of Shakespeare, given enough time, by chance. When actual monkeys were given computers to type with, they put a damper on that notion. Some peed or defecated on the keys, some repeated the letter “e” indefinitely, and many got distracted and didn’t continue the experiment. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Dr. A.E. Wilder-Smith pointed out that Huxley’s thought experiment ignored the reality that in biology, reactions are reversible: in the analogy, the letters don’t stay on the page. Without permanent storage, nothing of value would ever be produced because it would be lost as fast as it was produced. Realistically, too, monkeys break computers and can’t repair them, and they grow old and die.

Image credit: Illustra Media. In The Case for a Creator, they illustrated the “million monkeys” parable.

Evolutionists have a long record of failed attempts to connect apes to humans. Don’t fall for this latest attempt.

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