Building Words with Tools

Language is an often under-appreciated function of our existence. When we think about it we all will agree about its utmost importance. We need to communicate in an easy and effective way, and to do this we invented language. Can you think of another under-appreciated building block of life today? I should have given it away by using the term ‘building block,’ because what I am talking about is tool building.


Without our ability to develop tools we would be severely disadvantaged in our endeavors to achieve even a minuscule proportion of what we have today, we would still be running through fields trying to catch wild pigs with our bare hands; and that, my friends, is no easy feat. Today we use computers, live in apartments, drive cars to our day jobs, shop at a supermarket, take flights to distant countries for holidays, to see the architecture, to meet new people and share some experiences; how much of this would still be possible if not for language and the ability to build useful and purposeful tools?

Now you might agree with me up until now, but are perhaps wondering why I’m speaking of two seemingly different subjects in language forming and tool building; why not also morality and compassion and other important aspects of being the human race as we know ourselves? Well, because of new research from the University of Liverpool that suggests these two important functions developed at the same time and using the same regions of the brain.

Researchers at the University measured the blood flow in the brains of ten expert stone tool makers, or flint knappers, as they performed a task involving making tools and performing in a language test. The results found brain patterns from the tool making test correlated with those of the language test, suggesting that they both use the same areas of the brain. This is the first study that compares these to aspects of human existence, but the idea was first suggested by Darwin, whom thought that tool-making and language co-evolved over millions of years because they rely on complex planning and the coordination of actions.


As you might imagine this could do wonders for us to figure out more clearly how language started and evolved those millions of years ago. Unlike tools that fossilize and can be retrieved now, language does not follow the same pattern. All we can see is evidence of paintings on walls. This does not always provide a clear and easily identifiable source or path to the modern day language as that of tool building.

What do you think life would be like without language or tool building skills? Have you ever made your own tool or device to achieve something?