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Evolution of Emotional CommunicationFrom Sounds in Nonhuman Mammals to Speech and Music in Man$
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Eckart Altenmüller, Sabine Schmidt, and Elke Zimmermann

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199583560

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199583560.001.0001

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Primate precursors to human language: Beyond discontinuity

Primate precursors to human language: Beyond discontinuity

Chapter:
(p.26) Chapter 2 Primate precursors to human language: Beyond discontinuity
Source:
Evolution of Emotional Communication
Author(s):

W. Tecumseh Fitch

Klaus Zuberbühler

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199583560.003.0002

The human capacity to acquire language requires multiple, separable mechanisms, including the ability to produce, perceive and learn complex signals and the ability to interpret and control these signals depending on current context and prior knowledge. To understand the evolution of human language, we need to understand which of these capabilities were already present in the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, and which evolved later. Because language does not fossilize, we must rely mainly upon comparative data from living animals to address these issues. Fortunately, recent years have seen considerable advances in our understanding of animal vocal communication, especially regarding signal production and context-dependent signal interpretation. These observations deny any simplistic dichotomy of continuity versus discontinuity between human spoken language and vocal communication in other primates, highlighting the need to consider each of many independent language components separately. In some cases new data demand a reinterpretation of long-held beliefs about the similarities and differences between humans and other primates. Future progress will require us to move beyond dichotomous debates regarding continuity, and to analyze the multiple mechanisms underlying language from a rigorous, comparative perspective.

Keywords:   Signals, vocal, cognitive, continuity, call, vocalization

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