I’m responding to the original post without more than the briefest skim of the intervening comments, which is always a bit dangerous. If I’m off the mark, please disregard.
I went to your link from edge.org to see the context of Nowak’s comments, which I’ll copy here.
Important steps in evolution are robust. Multi-cellularity evolved at least ten times. There are several independent origins of eusociality. There were a number of lineages leading from primates to humans. If our ancestors would not have evolved language, somebody else would have.
If I could venture to interpret this paragraph, it seems what he meant was, “There are a number of primate lineages in the hominid group that were similar to but different from homo sapiens. If our ancestors had not evolved language, somebody else would have.” At least, that’s how I read it, and it seems consistent with the overall point of his paragraph about convergent evolution.
Does that help answer your question at all?