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Language Evolution$
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Morten H. Christiansen and Simon Kirby

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780199244843

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199244843.001.0001

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What Are the Uniquely Human Components of the Language Faculty?

What Are the Uniquely Human Components of the Language Faculty?

Chapter:
(p.158) 9 What Are the Uniquely Human Components of the Language Faculty?
Source:
Language Evolution
Author(s):

Marc D. Hauser

W. Tecumseh Fitch

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199244843.003.0009

Taking a biologist's perspective on language evolution, this chapter advocates the use of a comparative method for exploring the various other components that make up the human language ability. It argues that studying animals, in particular nonhuman primates, is the only way to determine which components of language may be unique to humans and which may be shared with other species. With respect to speech perception, the evidence suggests that the underlying mechanisms also are shared with other mammals. The mechanisms underlying the speech production and perception in modern humans did not evolve for their current purposes; rather, they evolved for other communicative or cognitive functions in a common ancestor to humans and chimpanzees. However, the fundamental difference between humans and nonhuman animals is the capacity to use recursive syntax — the ability to take units of language, such as words, and recombine them to produce an open-ended variety of meaningful expressions.

Keywords:   language, language evolution, language ability, nonhuman primates, speech perception, recursive syntax, speech production

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