Table of Contents
Journal of Anthropology
Volume 2012, Article ID 201502, 14 pages
Research Article

The Human Mandible and the Origins of Speech

Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611-7305, USA

Received 1 November 2011; Accepted 6 February 2012

Academic Editor: Emiliano Bruner

Copyright © 2012 David J. Daegling. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Among the unique traits of human mandibles is the finding of relatively greater utilization of cortical bone with respect to other hominoids. The functional significance of this trait is not plausibly linked to masticatory demands given the diminution of the masticatory musculature in human evolution and the behavioral universal of extraoral food preparation in recent humans. Similarly, the presence of more mandibular bone is not a correlated effect of systemic skeletal robusticity, since gracilization of the skeleton is a feature diagnostic of modern humans. The mandibular symphysis in modern humans is manifested as the chin, and it is here where cortical bone hypertrophy is most pronounced. The potential covariation between the expression of the chin and bone hypertrophy is explored in an attempt to clarify their respective biomechanical roles. Current developments in skeletal biomechanics implicate low magnitude, high frequency strains in bone hypertrophy. The physiology of speech production likely produces strains in mandibular bone of greater frequency and lesser magnitude than those associated with mastication. Consequently, language acquisition plausibly accounts for cortical hypertrophy in modern human mandibles. Its role in the evolution and development of the chin is less clear.