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It is an intriguing question, to which we may never have a complete answer: How did we get from animal vocalization (barks, howls, calls...) to human language?
Animals often make use of signs, which point to what they represent, but they don’t use symbols, which are arbitrary and conventional. Examples of signs include sniffles as a sign of an on-coming cold, clouds as a sign of rain, or a scent as a sign of territory. Symbols include things like the words we use. Dog, Hund, chien, cane, perro -- these are symbols that refer to the creature so named, yet each one contains nothing in it that in anyway indicates that creature.
In addition, language is a system of symbols, with several levels of organization, at least phonetics (the sounds), syntax (the grammar), and semantics (the meanings).
So when did language begin? At the very beginnings of the genus Homo, perhaps 4 or 5 million years ago? Or with the advent of modern man, Cro-magnon, some 125,000 years ago? Did the neanderthal speak? He had a brain that was larger than ours, but his voice box seems to be higher in his throat, like that of the apes. We don’t know.