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Language May Have Evolved With Help From Other Species

June 30, 2014
Illustration by Christine Daniloff/MIT

Illustration by Christine Daniloff/MIT

Human Language’s Deep Origins Appear to Have Come Directly from Birds and Primates

Miyagawa and his co-authors think that some apparently infinite qualities of modern human language, when reanalyzed, actually display the finite qualities of languages of other animals — meaning that human communication is more similar to that of other animals than we generally realized.

FROM SCIENCE DAILY (June 11, 2014): “‘Yes, human language is unique, but if you take it apart in the right way, the two parts we identify are in fact of a finite state,” Miyagawa says. “Those two components have antecedents in the animal world. According to our hypothesis, they came together uniquely in human language.'”

Introducing the Integration Hypothesis, in which humans combined the expression of the birds with the logic of other primates to produce language that is uniquely (but not completely) human.

This article, produced with information provided by MIT, gives an overview of research into the origins of human language that was done by Shigeru Miyagawa, the Kochi-Manjiro Professor of Japanese Language and Culture at MIT, Robert Berwick, a professor of computational linguistics and computer science and engineering in MIT’s Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems; and Shiro Ojima and Kazuo Okanoya, scholars at the University of Tokyo. The resulting paper was recently published in Psychology Today.

“The paper’s conclusions build on past work by Miyagawa, which holds that human language consists of two distinct layers: the expressive layer, which relates to the mutable structure of sentences, and the lexical layer, where the core content of a sentence resides. That idea, in turn, is based on previous work by linguistics scholars including Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale, and Samuel Jay Keyser.”

Interesting stuff. You can read the article here.

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