The evolution of human communication and language

James R. Hurford

in Sociobiology of Communication

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199216840
Published online September 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780191712043 | DOI:
 The evolution of human communication and language

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Human languages are far more complex than any animal communication system. Furthermore, they are learned, rather than innate, a fact which partially accounts for their great diversity. Human languages are semantically compositional, generating new meaningful combinations as functions of the meanings of their elementary parts (words). This is unlike any known animal communication system (except the limited waggle dance of honeybees). Humans can use language to describe and refer to objects and events in the far distant past and the far distant future, another feature which distinguishes language from animal communication systems. The complexity of languages arises partly from self-organization through cultural transmission over many generations of users. The human willingness altruistically to impart information is also unique.

Keywords: language complexity; language diversity; compositionality of meaning; double articulation; self-organization; stimulus-freedom; cultural transmission

Chapter.  11217 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences

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