Audio download of Professor Martin L. Lenhardt’s lecture “Expansion of Jaynes’ Wahee-Wahoo Hypothesis for Speech/Language Evolution.”
From the Julian Jaynes Society Conference on Consciousness and Bicameral Studies.
Summary: Jaynes’s paper entitled ‘The Evolution of Language in the Late Pleistocene” presented at the 1976 New York Academy of Sciences meeting summarized his views on speech/language evolution. Jaynes received considerable criticism, chief of which was directed at his relatively later date of the emergence of speech in our species. Jaynes started with alarm calls, which likely existed in some form in prehuman primate species. His specific example was a warning cry of wha which changes in intensity with the threat level and can be directed to specific (moving) objects. An specific approaching dangerous object might elicit a cry of wahee whereas the same departing object might elicit a more relaxed vocal gesture as wahoo. Although Jaynes never specified the wahoo would likely be longer in duration with a falling pitch contour. The wahee would likely be shorter in duration to accommodate more calls per breath in an excited state which would likely be characterized by a flat or rising pitch contour. These contours have linguistic meaning today and are one of the first discernible by infants and processed on the right side of adult brains. It would appear there was a fitness advantage for individuals developing a vocal alarm system of this nature. I will argue in this presentation it is the complex acoustical nature of these calls that was selected for but not, as most suggest for communication, but as an aid in auditory localization within a social group. Jaynes’s concept that the call endings later separated from the calls to become modifiers is reasonable in the sense that hee and hoo were functionally distinct and have a specific auditory neural substrate.
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