The Face You Make When You "Can't Even" Played a Big Part in Evolving Language

Source: AP
Source: AP

Sometimes a facial expression is worth a thousand words, and scientists have identified one in particular that might have helped to evolve all the words.

"Not Face", as it's referred to in the scientific journal Cognition, is basically the emoji whose mouth is a straight, solemn line, the one that strikes the perfect balance between a smile and a frown. It's the face you make when your friend hooks up with their ex — again — or when your uncle starts talking politics during Thanksgiving dinner.

But according to the study's co-author Aleix Martinez, the face is much more than an expression that could be interpreted as snark. It might have also acted as a signifier to early speakers, like a question mark might have been, that something they'd just communicated didn't make sense.

"A grammatical marker is a sound or facial expression or sign that has some grammatical function, and these things distinguish animal communication from human language," Martinez told The Washington Post

The 158 speakers that Martinez studied were native speakers of English, Mandarin, Spanish and American Sign Language. All of the subjects communicating with spoken languages employed the use of the "Not Face" but, interestingly, so did those who used ASL. 

The non-verbal communicators' use of the expression reinforced the idea that the "Not Face" did in fact evolve as a part of language in and of itself — and now, scientists are hunting for the way facial expressions and verbal communication work in tandem to create uniquely human speech.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Brianna Provenzano

Brianna is a staff writer at Mic, covering breaking news. Send tips/inquiries to brianna@mic.com.

MORE FROM

Will Justice Anthony Kennedy retire at end of Supreme Court term? Here's what we know.

Rumors that the 80-year-old swing justice may leave the bench are fueling fear of a second Trump pick on the nation's high court.

3 states and D.C. allow same flammable building materials behind Grenfell Tower fire

The causes of London's Grenfell Tower are similar to the justifications used to waive fire regulations in the U.S.

New Jersey bill would require kids to be taught how to interact with police

Students from kindergarten through 12th grade would receive the education.

UK Parliament hit with cyberattack

Members of Parliament had difficulty accessing their emails Saturday in the wake of the attack.

Istanbul LGBT pride march banned by government for safety concerns

A right-wing nationalist group has vowed to stop the protest.

Compounds seized by US in December reportedly contained material useful in Russia probe

The Trump administration has reportedly been considering returning the New York and Maryland compounds to Russia.

Will Justice Anthony Kennedy retire at end of Supreme Court term? Here's what we know.

Rumors that the 80-year-old swing justice may leave the bench are fueling fear of a second Trump pick on the nation's high court.

3 states and D.C. allow same flammable building materials behind Grenfell Tower fire

The causes of London's Grenfell Tower are similar to the justifications used to waive fire regulations in the U.S.

New Jersey bill would require kids to be taught how to interact with police

Students from kindergarten through 12th grade would receive the education.

UK Parliament hit with cyberattack

Members of Parliament had difficulty accessing their emails Saturday in the wake of the attack.

Istanbul LGBT pride march banned by government for safety concerns

A right-wing nationalist group has vowed to stop the protest.

Compounds seized by US in December reportedly contained material useful in Russia probe

The Trump administration has reportedly been considering returning the New York and Maryland compounds to Russia.