From Language as Speech to Language as Thought

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What sets mankind apart from all other species is not the naked skin, the upright stance, the use of tools or the capacity for thought and emotion. Not even the ability to speak makes the difference. The true ‘sapiens factor,’ the element which turned ape into man, was the transition from verbal communication to verbal thought.

Our forebears started out like any other great ape. Even the development of speech did not help to improve life much compared to that of other hominoids. But around 40,000 years ago, human cultural evolution exploded. Something very impressive takes place within a time span that would normally pass unnoticed. Compared with the preceding pace of evolution, there is an explosion of innovation. A new factor is at play here – what is the ‘sapiens factor’? Available data strongly indicate that what moved our forebears away from all other mammals, including other hominids, was not their use of words to communicate, but that they used them in a new way. Our ancestors moved the handy denominators for reality, which words are, from the realm of communication into the realm of thought.


“This book is an important achievement in at least two aspects: It definitely does away with the widely held opinion that the upright gait, our two-leggedness, is a unique human characteristic, inasmuch that the author makes clear that a vertical body posture is already typical for our ancestors for about 70 million years; and Dr. Westendorp convincingly illustrates the main issue of his study, that the sapiens factor is not verbal communication, but that it is verbal thinking that really sets us apart from all other living beings. He dates this breakthrough at about 40,000 years b.p. and illustrates it profusely by means of a wealth of examples …” – J.H. Frijlink, Professor Emeritus, University of Amsterdam

“This book is a scientific novel about the evolution of our mind, or, as Dr. Westendorp once put it: ‘How just another ape evolves from a stumbling talker to a powerful, controlled thinker’. His book about the history of mankind is unusually well-written. It explains how the ‘sapiens factor’ – the use of words, first in communication and later as handles to control the thinking process – brought us abstract thinking and consciousness. This has broadened my vision on why we are what we are ... This work may provide scholars with new perspectives to a better understanding of human behavior. Dr. Westendorp treats complex topics in such a clear manner that also the educated layman will enjoy reading the book ...” – Dr. Marc G.M. van Roosmalen, Manaus-AM Brazil

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface by Angeline Westendorp-van Roosmalen

1. The Apple
2. Roots
3. Handy Man
4. All You Need
5. The Hunt
6. Je Pense
7. Feelings
8. Making Contact
9. Ecce Homo Originalis

10. A Novel Specialty
11. Building a Hut, Part One
12. Building a Hut, Part Two
13. The Neanderthal Question
14. Building a Hut, Part Three
15. Building a Hut, Part Four
16. The Sapiens Factor

17. The Person Outside
18. Premature
19. I’m OK?
20. Escape Artist
21. The Trouble with Language
22. Who Chases Whom?
23. From Ape to Man

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