How did the cavemen used to communicate? Researchers may have found the answer

Did our distant ancestors communicate by grunting? Researchers have been trying to answer the same question for some time now…

Over the centuries, language has evolved into what we know today as English, French, Hindi, Mandarin, and the countless other languages communities speak today. But have you ever wondered how humans communicated in prehistoric times?

TV and media have popularised the notion that cavemen used to grunt at each other to signal their different needs, but is that really true?

How was language born?

Due to a lack of archival records, it is difficult to determine what the first languages sounded like.

However, in order to recreate what communication may have looked like back then, a team of researchers tried to get two groups of people who did not speak the same language to communicate: a group of Australians and a group of Vanuatuans. They did the experiment under the assumption that the human brain has not changed radically in the last 500,000 years.

Deprived of their main communication tool, the two groups had to try and understand each other using other means. One method used by the participants proved to be particularly effective in getting the message across, despite the language barrier.

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Effective communication

The two groups could either communicate using vocal communication (ie. grunts, screams, etc.) and non-verbal communication (ie. body language, gestures, & signs).

The results? Communication was much more effective when it was done via signs than grunts. The author of the study explains:

Gestures are more effective than vocalisations, because signals by gestures are more universal than signals by voice.

Naturally, there are exceptions to this. For example, a distress call will always be interpreted as a signal for danger. On the other hand, certain intonations of such a call could be interpreted differently in different cultures. The authors added:

These results are consistent with the theory that the first language was originally based on gestures.

So it looks like we could have our answer. The conversations between the first men may resemble that of two people communicating in sign language.

This article has been translated from Gentside FR.

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