Are other animals as smart as great apes? Do others provide better models for the evolution of speech or language?

Kathleen R. Gibson

in The Oxford Handbook of Language Evolution

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

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

 Are other animals as smart as great apes? Do others provide better models for the evolution of speech or language?

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Linguistics
  • Language Evolution
  • Cognitive Linguistics


Show Summary Details


This article reviews recent evidence for advanced, language-pertinent, cognitive capacities in birds and mammals and evaluates the potential suitability of song and other animal vocal behaviors as models for the evolution of speech. Dolphins are extremely vocal, exhibit intelligence across a number of behavioral domains, are highly social, and often cooperate to herd schools of fish. Dolphins can also recognize themselves in mirrors, coordinate body postures and swimming patterns with those of other dolphins, and imitate each other's vocalizations, including unique signature whistles which serve for individual recognition among adults and in the mother-infant dyad. The only other non-primate mammals whose “language” capacities appear to have been investigated are domestic dogs. Some have also claimed that domestic dogs equal or exceed great apes in social intelligence. It is reported that both elephants and spotted hyenas are unusually intelligent. Elephants remember and recognize by olfactory and visual means numerous conspecifics and classify them into social groups. They also sometimes cooperate to achieve joint goals and seem to understand others' intentions and emotions. Elephants have highly manipulative trunks, use tools for varied purposes, may recognize themselves in mirrors, and may have a stronger numerical sense than non-human primates. They have elaborate vocal, olfactory, tactile, and gestural communication systems and can imitate some sounds.

Keywords: cognitive capacities; vocal behavior; evolution of speech; swimming patterns; vocalizations; gestural communication

Article.  4537 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Language Evolution ; Cognitive Linguistics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.