How old is language?
This morning I listened to the first in a new series of a BBC Radio 4 programme called Fry’s English Delight in which the Stephen Fry discusses the development, design and functions of the mouth. According to an evolutionary biologist interviewed on the programme, the human mouth attained it’s modern form between about 80 and 50 thousand years ago, and this allowed our ancestors to make the full range of sounds used in languages. These dates also fit with some estimates of when first language emerged.
They also mention that art and related activities also start to appear in the archaeological record roughly between those dates. This is not conclusive evidence that language is between 50 and 80 thousand years old – there is some evidence of possibly older artist activity, but is very interesting nonetheless.