Human language could have evolved from birdsong

Human language could have evolved from birdsong


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The sounds emitted by birds offer, in several respects, the closest analogy to language", wrote Charles Darwin in The Origin of Man by contemplating how human beings learned to speak. The language, he believed, could have had its origin in singing, what "could have caused the words to express diverse and complex emotions”.

Now, the MIT researchers, along with a researcher from the University of Tokyo, they believe that Darwin was on the right track with that approach. The balance of the evidence, in his view, suggests that human language is the combination of two forms of communication found in the animal kingdom: first, the songs made by birds and, second, the types of communication with which the rest of the animals express themselves.

It is this accidental combination that triggered human language”Explained Shigeru Miyagawa, professor of linguistics in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT and co-author of a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The idea is based on the fact that there are two “layers"In all human languages: a layer of"expression", Which involves the changing organization of sentences, and a layer of"lexicon”, Which refers to the basic content of a sentence. His conclusion is based on previous work by linguists such as Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale, and Samuel Jay Keyser.

Based on the analysis of animal communication and using the Miyagawa study, the authors think that the song of birds is very similar to the expression layer of human language phrases, while the form of communication of bees or the short and audible messages of primates, are more similar to the layer of the lexicon. Sometime between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans could have fused these two forms of expression into a single, sophisticated form of language.

Human beings, according to Miyagawa, have successfully combined these systems. We can communicate essential information, like bees or primates, but like birds, we have a melodic ability and the ability to re-combine parts of our spoken language. For this reason, our finite vocabulary can generate a seemingly infinite chain of words.

It's just a hypothesis”Said Berwick, one of Miyagawa's partners,“but a way of exposing what Darwin was vaguely explaining, because now we have more knowledge about language”.

Image:Cs90123 in Wikimedia

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