Baby talk key to evolution

Tim Radford, science editor
Monday December 20, 2004
The Guardian

Florida scientists believe they know why complex language evolved. Blame it on baby talk. At least 1.6m years ago, some human ancestor mother started saying "goo-goo" and "ba-ba" to her baby as a way of keeping in touch.
And it all began because humans became bipedal. Modern ape babies cling to the maternal fur. Chimpanzee mothers are silent. There could be a link, says Dean Falk, an anthropologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee. She reports in the journal Behavioural and Brain Sciences that "motherese", the universal language of motherhood, is characterised by a high-pitched voice, long drawn out vowels, repetitive phrases and a singsong cadence. These may hold the key to the emergence of language.

"The epiphany for me was that I knew chimp mommies don't make these noises, so I knew something happened during evolution," she said. "The missing puzzle piece was bipedalism. We stood up; we lost hair. It was then that babies could no longer hang on to their mothers. Mothers had to hang on to their babies. That was a eureka moment."

For two centuries, researchers have tried to understand how one mammal evolved from grunting and hunting to growing bonsai trees and reading Homer. The key lies in the relatively large human brain, and the use of complex language. But nobody knows why language evolved, or why humans developed bigger brains.,00.html