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Sociobiology of Communication$
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Patrizia d'Ettorre and David P. Hughes

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199216840

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199216840.001.0001

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The evolution of human communication and language

Chapter:
(p.249) CHAPTER 14 The evolution of human communication and language
Source:
Sociobiology of Communication
Author(s):

James R. Hurford

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199216840.003.0014

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

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