Language and Animals

Professor Marc Hauser discusses the differences and similarities between humans and primates in terms of language ability.

To think about the uniquely human capacities of language and those that are shared in common, it is probably important to distinguish three relevant components of language. One, we might think of the sort of syntax or grammar, the kind of rules of language. The second are the semantics or the thoughts. The third are the sort of sensory and motor systems that hook up with the concepts to create words. So, if we then ask, well of those pieces, what do we share with other animals and what is unique, I think were share almost entirely the perceptual systems, to hear the distinctions within speak, to produce those kinds of sounds. Those seemed to be shared across other animals. When it comes to the concepts, here again we find some of the same kinds of conceptual abilities in other animals that we find in humans. To me, the difference lies in some of the grammars or rules that humans use to combine and recombine the elements to create a kind of infinite variety of meaningful expressions. And there we might just add that when animals also fail to do is, what we do everyday when we create words, which is we combine some arbitrary sound with some kind of meaning. So we can choose, by convention to say this is a band or a wand or whatever we want, if by convention, we agree, off goes the word. So, the critical thing is the arbitrary association between sound and meaning, which gives us our words, and secondly, the rules by which we combine these words to create an infinite variety of expressions.

primates, linguistics, language, perception, syntax, sound, production, speech, thought, rule, marc, hauser,

Related Content

2239. Language

An overview of language-related content on Genes to Cognition Online.

  • ID: 2239
  • Source: G2C

1087. What is Language?

Professor Marc Hauser defines language as an internal process that involves ways of manipulating symbols. It is qualitatively different to "communication."

  • ID: 1087
  • Source: G2C

1085. Philosophy of Mind

Professor Marc Hauser explains that philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the nature of consciousness.

  • ID: 1085
  • Source: G2C

2098. Broca's Area

Broca's area is a functionally defined structure in the left frontal lobe of most humans. It is involved mainly in producing speech, writing, and also in language processing and comprehension.

  • ID: 2098
  • Source: G2C

1086. Defining Cognition

Professor Marc Hauser defines cognition as a way of processing information about the world. He includes emotion as a cognitive process.

  • ID: 1086
  • Source: G2C

11745. "Eugenics and Society" (The Galton Lecture given to the Eugenics Society), by Julian S. Huxley, Eugenics Review (vol 28:1) (7)

"Eugenics and Society" (The Galton Lecture given to the Eugenics Society), by Julian S. Huxley, Eugenics Review (vol 28:1) (7)

  • ID: 11745
  • Source: EA

884. Background to Autism

Autism is a disorder in brain development that becomes apparent in earliest childhood. It is defined by problems in socialization, communication, and repetitive behaviors.

  • ID: 884
  • Source: G2C

1125. Autism and the Family (1)

A mother talks about problems she had in obtaining a diagnosis for her autistic son.

  • ID: 1125
  • Source: G2C

794. Background to Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes a gradual and irreversible loss of higher brain functions, including memory, language skills, and perception of time and space,

  • ID: 794
  • Source: G2C

15151. Chimps, humans, and language, Svante Paabo

Evolutionary geneticist Svante Paabo speaks about the differences between chimp and humans and a genetic basis for language.

  • ID: 15151
  • Source: DNAi