In recent posts, we’ve explored the implications of cross-species sexual attraction, and the perception of language as a measure of distinction between Homo sapiens and the rest of the animal kingdom. The question of what separates our species from other animals, and whether language is indeed a mark of distinction, continues to fascinate, intrigue and trouble today, just as it did in the 1870s. These two issues–of cross-species selection and language acquisition–came together following the publication of Darwin’s Descent of Man in 1871 in the search for the so-called “missing link” in human evolution.
As a famous figure in the debates surrounding human evolution, Darwin could be something of a lightning rod for eccentric thinkers with their own ideas about his theories. The idea of a “missing link” compelled one such enthusiast to write to him about the possible origins of humankind. Having read an “exposition of the ‘Darwinian theory’” that posited the missing link as an extinct “race of ‘Speechless Men,’” an American banker living in Paris by the name of William B. Bowles suggested to Darwin that, in fact, the “missing link” was neither speechless nor extinct. Rather, the “missing links” in human evolution were “Speaking Monkies,” and Bowles was bold enough to suggest that he thought he could “point out this missing race, show where and how it lives.” Continue Reading »