Nature Reviews Genetics 7, 9-20 (January 2006) | doi:10.1038/nrg1747

The eloquent ape: genes, brains and the evolution of language

Simon E Fisher1 & Gary F. Marcus2  About the authors


The human capacity to acquire complex language seems to be without parallel in the natural world. The origins of this remarkable trait have long resisted adequate explanation, but advances in fields that range from molecular genetics to cognitive neuroscience offer new promise. Here we synthesize recent developments in linguistics, psychology and neuroimaging with progress in comparative genomics, gene-expression profiling and studies of developmental disorders. We argue that language should be viewed not as a wholesale innovation, but as a complex reconfiguration of ancestral systems that have been adapted in evolutionarily novel ways.

Author affiliations

  1. Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Roosevelt Drive, Oxford OX3 7BN, UK.
  2. Department of Psychology, New York University, 6 Washington Place, New York 10003, USA.

Correspondence to: Simon E Fisher1 Email:


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