Why Did Our Ancestors Need Syntax? Social Orders and Communication Concerns of (Proto)Sapiens



Objective. Explanation of the late stages of glottogenesis (ordering of an utterance parts, the formation of full-fledged words from protowords, the appearance of the first syntax and grammar constructions) by means of theoretical reconstruction of social orders, challenges, communicative concerns, and practices of late erectus (proto-sapiens and early sapiens) based on indirect data, general laws of social psychology, individual and group behavior. Background. The research on the origin and evolution of language is being actively carried out in last decades. Special educational and research programs, laboratories, centers, societies, journal headings are multiplying; there are even magazines and whole book series devoted to this topic. This interest is determined by the fact that the origins of the main human features and merits such as consciousness, culture, thinking, cognition, are inextricably linked with the origin of language. In the last 10—15 years, attention has been growing to socio-psychological and paleo-sociological explanations of glottogenesis processes. This article develops this direction considering the achievements of domestic science, first the theoretical legacy of Leo Vygotsky. Methodology. An evolutionary approach with usage of multilevel selection mechanisms. Paleo-anthropological, paleo-psychological, and paleo-sociological reconstructions. Conclusions. The transition from the early stages of articulate speech to a proto-language and a full-fledged language was a multi-stage process of complexity and accuracy of utterances increasing. It was a response to step by step renewed techno-natural niches, social orders, and communicative concerns of proto-sapiens, and then early sapiens. The main role was played by the development of fire, collective cooking, joint meals, and the associated ritual practices of telling stories about events that occurred. The result was practice of distant normative control that led to further development language precision and complexity. In later stages, due to environmental and demographic factors in southern and eastern Africa, forced migrations and frequent intergroup clashes led not only to conflicts, but also to the formation of alliances. This formation required negotiations with higher levels of accuracy, logical consistency, and abstractness of communication.

General Information

Keywords: origin of language, glottogenesis, proto-language, paleopsychology, paleosociology, paleoanthropology, rituals, joint meals, normative control, negotiations, social orders, communicative concerns

Journal rubric: Theoretical Research

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/sps.2022130203

Received: 21.07.2021


For citation: Rozov N.S. Why Did Our Ancestors Need Syntax? Social Orders and Communication Concerns of (Proto)Sapiens. Sotsial'naya psikhologiya i obshchestvo = Social Psychology and Society, 2022. Vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 25–39. DOI: 10.17759/sps.2022130203. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


  1. Barulin A.N. Osnovaniya semiotiki. Znaki, znakovye sistemy, kommunikatsiya. Chast’ 1 [Foundations of the semiotics: Signs, sign systems, communication. Part 1]. Moscow: Sport i kul’tura, 2002. 464 p. (In Russ.).
  2. Bickerton D. Yazyk Adama: kak lyudi sozdali yazyk, kak yazyk sozdal lyudei [Adam’s tongue. How humans made language, how language made humans]. Moscow: Yazyki slavyanskikh kul’tur, 2012. 349 p. (In Russ.).
  3. Burlak S.A. Vremya poyavleniya zvuchashchei rechi po dannym antropologii [The Time of the Articulate Speech Appearance, according to anthropological data]. Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta. Seria XXIII. Antropologia = Moscow University Anthropology Bulletin, 2012, no. 3, pp. 109—119. (In Russ.).
  4. Burlak S.A. Proiskhozhdenie yazyka. Fakty, issledovaniya, gipotezy [The origin of language. Facts, research, hypotheses]. Moscow: Alpina Digital, 2019. 458 p. (In Russ.).
  5. Vishniatsky L.B. Kul’turnaya dinamika v seredine pozdnego pleistotsena i prichiny verkhnepaleoliticheskoi revolyutsii [Cultural Dynamics in the Mid-Late Pleistocene and Causes of the Upper Paleolithic Revolution]. Sankt-Petersburg: S-P.b Univ. Publ, 2008. 251 p. (In Russ.).
  6. Vygotskii L.S. Psikhologiya razvitiya cheloveka [Psychology of Human Development]. Moscow: Smysl Publ.; Eksmo Publ, 2005. 1136 p. (In Russ.).
  7. Goffman E. Ritual vzaimodeistviya: Ocherki povedeniya litsom k litsu [Interaction Ritual Essays in Face-to-Face Behavior]. Moscow: Smysl, 2009. 319 p. (In Russ.).
  8. Johnson A., Earle T. Evolyutsiya chelovecheskikh obshchestv. Ot dobyvayushchei obshchiny k agrarnomu gosudarstvu [The Evolution of Human Societies. From a Foraging Group to Agrarian State]. Moscow: Izd-vo Instituta Gaidara, 2017. 552 p. (In Russ.).
  9. Drobyshevskii S.V. Antropogenez [The Anthropogenesis]. Moscow: Arhe, Modern‑A, 2017. 167 p. (In Russ.).
  10. Isenina E.I. Teoriya i metodika razvitiya rechi u detei. Doslovesnyi period [The Theory and Technique of Children’s Speech Development. The Pre-Word Period]. Moscow: Yiurait Publ., 2020. 149 p. (In Russ.).
  11. Carneiro R. Teoriya proiskhozhdeniya gosudarstva [A theory of the origin of the state]. In Grinin L.E., Bondarenko D.M., Kradin N.N., Korotaev A.V. (eds). Rannee gosudarstvo, ego al’ternativy i analogi [The early state, its alternatives, and analogues]. Volgograd: Uchitel’, 2006, pp. 55—70. (In Russ.).
  12. Miller D. Soblaznyayushchii razum. Kak vybor seksual’nogo partnera povliyal na evolyutsiyu chelovecheskoi prirody [The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature]. Moscow: Corpus (AST), 2000. 750 p. (In Russ.).
  13. Porshnev B.F. O nachale chelovecheskoi istorii (Problemy paleopsikhologii) [About the beginning of human history (Problems of paleopsychology)]. Moscow: Feri-B, 2006. 635 p. (In Russ.).
  14. Rozov N.S. Proiskhozhdenie yazyka i soznaniya. Kak sotsial’nye poryadki i kommunikativnye zaboty porozhdali rechevye i kognitivnye sposobnosti [The Origin of Language and Consciousness. How social orders and communicative concerns gave rise to speech and cognitive abilities]. Novosibirsk: Manuskript, 2022. 355 p. (In Russ.).
  15. Wrangham R. Zazhech’ ogon’. Kak kulinariya sdelala nas lyud’mi [Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human]. Moscow: Astrel’: CORPUS, 2012. 333 p. (In Russ.).
  16. Skinner B.F. Operantnoe povedenie [Operant behavior]. In Gal’perin P.Ya., Zhdan A.I. (eds). Istoriya zarubezhnoi psikhologii. Teksty [ History of Foreign Psychology. Texts]. Moscow: Moscow State University Publ., 1986, pp. 60—95. (In Russ.).
  17. Tomasello M. Istoki chelovecheskogo obshcheniya [Origins of Human Communication]. Moscow: Yazyki slavyanskikh kul’tur, 2011. 323 p. (In Russ.).
  18. Wells S. Geneticheskaya odisseya cheloveka [The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey]. Moscow: Al’pina Non-fikshn, 2013. 364 p. (In Russ.).
  19. Tseitlin S.N. Yazyk i rebenok: lingvistika detskoi rechi [Language and the child: linguistics of children’s speech]. Moscow: Vlados Publ, 2000. 240 p. (In Russ.).
  20. Everett D. Ne spi — krugom zmei! Byt i yazyk indeitsev amazonskikh dzhunglei [Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle]. Moscow: Yazyki slavyanskikh kul’tur, 2016. 384 p. (In Russ.).
  21. Ambrose S.H. Small things remembered: origins of early microlithic industries in sub-Saharan Africa. In Thinking Small: Global Perspectives on Microlithic Technologies. Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association. In Elston R., Kuhn S. (eds) . 2002, no. 12, pp. 9—29.
  22. Barnard A. Social origins: sharing, exchange, kinship. In The Cradle of Language. In Botha R., Knight Chr. (eds) . Oxford Univ. Press, 2009, pp. 219—235.
  23. Boehm Chr. Conflict and the evolution of social control. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2000, no. 7, pp. 79—101.
  24. Collins R. Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton Univ. Press, 2004. 464 p.
  25. Dessalles J.-L. Why We Talk. The Evolutionary Origins of Language. Oxford Univ. Press, 2007. 388 p.
  26. Dediu D., Levinson S. On the antiquity of language: the reinterpretation of Neandertal linguistic capacities and its consequences. Frontiers in Psychology, 2013, pp. 1—17.
  27. Donald M. Hominid enculturation and cognitive evolution. In Cognition and material culture: The archaeology of symbolic storage. Ed. by Scarre C. Cambridge: McDonald Institute, 1998, pp. 7—17.
  28. Dor D. et al. 2014 — The Social Origins of Language. In Dor D., Knight Chr., Lewis J. (eds). Oxford Univ. Press, 2014. 528 p.
  29. Gabora L., Smith C.M. Two Cognitive Transitions Underlying the Capacity for Cultural Evolution. J. of Anthropological Sciences, 2018. Vol. 96, pp. 1—26.
  30. Laland K.N. Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony. How Culture Made the Human Mind. Princeton University Press, 2017. 464 p.
  31. Schegloff E.A. Sequencing in conversational openings. American Anthropologist, 1968. Vol. 70. no. 6, pp. 1075—1109.
  32. Stringer Chr. Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth. Times Books, 2012. 336 p.
  33. Walter et al. Early human occupation of the Red Sea coast of Eritrea during the last interglacial. Nature, 2000. Vol. 405, pp. 65—69.

Information About the Authors

Nikolai S. Rozov, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Chief Researcher, Institute of Philosophy and Law, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2362-541X, e-mail: nrozov@gmail.com



Total: 349
Previous month: 10
Current month: 3


Total: 151
Previous month: 1
Current month: 1