Introduction to Part I: Insights from comparative animal behaviour

Kathleen R. Gibson and Maggie Tallerman

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199541119
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Introduction to Part I: Insights from comparative animal behaviour

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The article addresses the issues related to hominins that first embarked upon the language evolutionary trajectory and modality gestural or vocal, used by them. Comparative studies of animal behavior can shed light on these issues provided they follow proper scientific methods. The earliest probable hominin that is well represented in the fossil record, Ardipithecus ramidus (dating to about 4.4 mya), was clearly substantially different from the bonobo, the chimpanzee, or any other primate, at least with respect to locomotor and dental anatomy. Parsimony dictates that any trait present in all descendants of a common ancestor is more likely to have been present in that ancestor than to have evolved separately in each descendant species. In practice, however, a volume of this nature cannot provide an exhaustive survey of the entire animal kingdom. The first article in this section reviews the ape language. It concludes that human-reared and/or trained members of each of the great ape species such as orangutan, chimpanzee, bonobo, and gorilla, have learned to use gestures, tokens, or visual lexigrams. In sum, although non-human primates have often been considered the most intelligent animals, it now appears that many animals are quite smart, and some may rival apes in their language-learning capacities. To date, however, no animal has demonstrated the full range of ape cognitive capacities, and none stands out as a better animal model for language evolution.

Keywords: animal behavior; fossil record; descendant species; animal kingdom; non-human primates; cognitive capacities

Article.  2629 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution

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