The title is certainly somehow confused, but here I'll explain you how I came up to this.
I am advisor of a very intelligent woman who is studying musical cognition and her work proposes a relationship between the processes of reading and writing music and natural language. We have written a couple of articles which we hope to publish soon, but while we were working with her thesis I made comments, and about a paragraph I wrote her the following note: remember that our brain is not evolutionarily programmed for reading and writing.
She knows me very well and of course she has read my writings both scientific as my blog, so I never could imagine that a simple comment would take us to a fascinating explanation which I would like to share with all of you.
"Our brain processes learning, including the process of reading and writing, tell me how come is not evolutionarily programmed to do this?"
The evolutionary process has led the species to acquire different skills, which have taken thousands of years to become part of the system, and therefore conquer a brain structure which command it.
Vision is for example, a victory that has taken much more time to development than the language. Each evolutionary triumph is a process of adaptation, which involves different prototypes that never seems to arrive at the final product, since nature makes adjustments depending on the environment, and although sometimes we take for granted that we are born with our fabulous capabilities to understand the world but not all of them have a genetic complement.
That is the case of the reading and writing acquisition, it's not something even ontogeny arises from the moment of birth, because children require at least between 4 and 6 years to start the acquisition process, and many more years to consolidate it.
When we think in terms of history of human evolution, we can see how language is a process that requires hearing the differences of every letter of the alphabet, and language recognition, and that involved the development of hearing, and probably the first acoustic traits were environmental, which allowed beginning to distinguish different sounds such as rain, singing of birds or wild animal sounds, and through many years and effort, led to the conquest of the language, which is, is a trophy of homo sapiens, as some claim.
The development of the vision began as is estimated around 600 million years ago in vertebrates, maybe after hearing. If we think of the cosmic calendar that Carl Sagan gave us to find life on Earth, we will be able to see that language arose more or less in November and literacy, which involves integration of signs at eye level and its relationship with the sounds of the alphabet, (see the sound of language) I think arises around the last minute of December...
Babies can listen through the medium within the womb, although hearing in an air environment is different from the aquatic environment, even though a few days old baby is able to recognize sounds, although it does not distinguish them, and gradually begins the process to make differences with the sounds of the language, to begin an amazing preparation to modulate it, repeat it and finally begin to talk and conversations If this is culturally stimulated.
The same should happen with the reading and writing process, since we can find find people who know how to speak, but cannot read and write. This step requires environmental stimulation and the reason is simple, the emergence of the reading - writing, it was not an ability shared by all people, only a few had access to learning and developing skill, the bulk of the population had no access to the alphabet, books or writing.
With the arrival of Gutenberg's printing press, many more people could have access to the books, provided they could pay them... so it took many years before literacy became a learning with open access among the population, but if we think that this happened at the last moment of December 31st in the Cosmic Calendar, then is easier to understand why our brain does not have sufficient practice to develop it without help.
What my student and I are exploring, is the way that our brain is using are sharing the musical and natural language (We think music was first, and we have shared for many thousands of years, so no one teaches us how to move hips when we heard drums), and this same brain structures are shared by literacy, to conform this new cognitive skill.
For this reason that when a child has difficulties in the acquisition or consolidation school learning process, we recommend to thinkabout baby steps, finally the human specie has need thousands of years to learn and we never stop.
Lamb, T., Collin, SP., Pugh, Jr., e. (2007) Evolution of the vertebrate eye: opsin photoreceptors, retine and eye cup. Nature reviews Neuroscience, 8, 960-976.
Masterson, B., Heffner, H., and Ravissa, r. (2005) The evolution of human hearing. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 45, 966.
Wright, S. (1931) Evolution in Mendelian populations. Genetics. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1201091/pdf/97.pdf