It’s now ten years since mutations in the FOXP2 gene were linked to language problems, which led to lots of overblown headlines about a ‘language gene’, which it isn’t.
The actual science is no less interesting, however, and Discover Magazine has a fantastic article that looks back on the last decade since the gene’s discovery and what it tells us about the complex genetics that support lingustic development and expression.
There’s also a fascinating bit about the history of attempts to explain how humans developed language, which apparently got so ridiculous that speculation was banned by learned societies in the 19th century:
Lacking hard evidence, scholars of the past speculated broadly about the origin of language. Some claimed that it started out as cries of pain, which gradually crystallized into distinct words. Others traced it back to music, to the imitation of animal grunts, or to birdsong. In 1866 the Linguistic Society of Paris got so exasperated by these unmoored musings that it banned all communication on the origin of language. Its English counterpart felt the same way. In 1873 the president of the Philological Society of London declared that linguists “shall do more by tracing the historical growth of one single work-a-day tongue, than by filling wastepaper baskets with reams of paper covered with speculations on the origin of all tongues.”
Like a 19th century reverse scientific X-Factor where people voted to ban people from speculating further. I think I may have found a gap in the market.
Link to Discover article on ‘The Language Fossils’.