Australian scientists have shed new light on how humans first developed the ability to learn languages and the evidence supports hands, not mouths, as the likely starting point.

Lifting the lid on thousands of years of evolutionary patterns, Western Australian Professor Nicolas Kay and other leading authors of a journal published in Frontiers in Psychology, have simulated a scenario similar to one humans would have found themselves in hundreds of thousands of years ago when they began learning a new language.

Using a study of 50 university students, Dr Kay and his team deducted that the most likely theory for the evolution of language was that humans first began to use hand signals and gestures, before they learnt to speak.

The students were placed in a environment where they were required to communicate with each other in pairs without using language. Each pair was allowed to use vocalisations, gestures or a combination of both, but gestures were by far and away the most popular form of communication.

Over time, Dr Kay told Fairfax Media, ‘our language then moved from our hands to our mouth’. While Dr Kay said most anecdotal evidence has taught people to intuitively believe that language evolved from vocalisations, because that was how people communicated with language today, the study suggested otherwise.

He said while the theory of vocalisations seems ‘plausible’ it doesn’t quite work as well if you take away people’s native language. By removing the study group’s ability to use language, Dr Fay and his colleagues found hand signals were the most commonly used type of communication.

He said it was similar to the way modern day communication tools that people depend on when they try to breakdown translation barriers.

For example, he said: ‘When you go overseas to somewhere like Japan and you’re trying to order food, you often end up using your hands to gesture what you’d like to eat,’ he said. Another example he highlighted was the way blind people often rely on gestures to communicate.

But while Dr Fay’s studies were compelling, they were unlikely to subdue the origin of language debate which became so speculative that any existing or future discussions on the subjects were banned during by the Linguistic Society of Paris 19th century Paris.

source: dailymail UK