Thanks to working on this blog, much has become clear to me that once seemed hopelessly obscure, but there are still points where I shake my head and confess that this or that point remains behind a very thick fog. The personal trait that I find most useful in paying prolonged attention to a mystery like speech origins is a huge tolerance for ambiguity. I don't know the answer today, is my basic attitude, and I don't even see a path to knowing, but I'll soldier on today in the hope of seeing more tomorrow.
One such mystery has been the process by which we gained precise control over the vocal apparatus. Last week I referred to the role of the Baldwin Effect in shaping speech abilities (see: Can Brains Point the Way?) But I must confess that I have my questions about what I wrote.
Here's what I said:
Efficient control is not neutral (no, genetic drift); the adaptive value is a reflection of the new linguistic environment (no mere optimizing of a trait); yet the speech itself is itself behavioral rather than genetic. Thus, control of the tongue and lips could well be a result of Baldwinian evolution.
And here's what I wonder: does improved speech really help with either a person's survival or mating?