Language and Human Species

Topics: Language, Human, Brain Pages: 16 (5857 words) Published: May 4, 2011
by Ulla Hedeager INTRODUCTION The assertion that humans differ from animals in their use of language has been the subject of much discussion as scientists have investigated language use by non-human species. Researchers have taught apes, dolphins, and parrots various systems of human-like communication, and recently, the study of animal language and behaviour in its natural environment rather than in the laboratory has increased. It is my aim to discuss human language within an evolutionary perspective, to step across disciplinary boundaries of different fields of science, and to show how we may consider language only as one of the many forms that animal communication has taken and that it may not be out of reach of other species. WHAT IS LANGUAGE ? What is language? A universally accepted definition of language or the criteria for its use does not exist. This is one of the reasons for the disagreement among scientists about whether non-human species can use language. In nature we find numerous kinds of communication systems, many of which appear to be unique to their possessors, and one of them is the language of the human species. Basically, the purpose of communication is the preservation, growth, and development of the species (Smith and Miller 1968:265). The ability to exchange information is shared by all communication systems, and a number of nonhuman systems share some features of human language. The fundamental difference between human and non-human communication is that animals are believed to react instinctively, in a stereotyped and predictable way. Mostly, human behaviour is under the voluntary control, and human language is creative and unpredictable. It is generally assumed that only humans have language. Parts of the problem of differentiating man from the other animals is the problem of describing how human language differs from any kind of communicative behaviour carried on by non-human or pre-human species. Until we have done this, we cannot know how much it means to assert that only man has the power of speech. (Hockett 1967:570). In order to contrast human language with animal communication, the linguist Charles Hockett (1967:574580) introduces a generally accepted check list for language, a set of design features that all human languages possess. His seven key properties are: duality of pattern (the combination of a phonological system and a grammatical system), productivity (the ability to create and understand new utterances), arbitrariness (when signs/words do not resemble the things they represent), interchangeability (the ability to transmit and to receive messages by exchanging roles), specialization (when the only function of speech is communication and the speaker does not act out his message), displacement (the ability to refer to the

IS LANGUAGE UNIQUE TO THE HUMAN SPECIES? past and to things not present), and cultural transmission (the ability to teach/learn from other individuals, e.g. by imitation). Until recently, articulate speech was also considered crucial to language, and the visual grammar of sign languages was not studied or recognized as true language. One famous view of language is that of the influential Noam Chomsky. He assumes that a kind of language organ within the mind is part of the genetic make-up of humans. A system which makes it possible from a limited set of rules to construct an unlimited number of sentences is not found in any other species, and Chomsky believes that it is an investigation of this uniqueness that is important and not the likeness between human language and other communication systems (Wardhaugh 1993:18-26,60-65). Apparently, linguists should not be concerned with this question because it is outside their field, and it is outside their field because the linguists themselves have defined language as uniquely human. This approach does not operate within an evolutionary perspective and does not consider...

Bibliography: Aitchison, Jean. The Articulate Mammal - An Introduction to Psycholinguistics. London: Hutchison of London, 1976. Aitchison, Jean. The Seeds of Speech - Language Origin and Evolution. UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Bickerton, Derek. Language and Species. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. Bonner, W.Nigel. Whales. UK: Blandford Press Ltd., 1980.
IS LANGUAGE UNIQUE TO THE HUMAN SPECIES? Burton, Maurice. The Sixth Sense of Animals. London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1973. Chomsky, Noam. Language and Mind. US: Harcourt Brace & World, 1968. 95. Diamond, Jared. The Rise and Fall of The Third Chimpanzee. London, Sydney, Auckland, Johannesburg: Radius, Random Century, 1991. Dunbar, Robin. Grooming, Gossip, and The Evolution of Language. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1996. US: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997. Ellegaard, Alvar. Sproget og hjernen. Translated by K. Rask. Sweden: Hammarstrom & AAberg Bokforlag and Copenhagen: Hans Reitzels Forlag A/S, 1982. Fouts, Roger and Mills, Stephen. Next of Kin. US, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand: Penguin Books, 1998. Fromkin, V. and Rodman, R. An Introduction to Language. 6th. ed. (1st ed. 1974). US: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998. Gannon, P.J., Holloway, R.L., Broadfield, D.C., and Braun, A.R. Are The Brains of Apes Ready For Language?. Science, 279 (1998), 220-222. Hockett, Charles F. A Course in Modern Linguistics. 12th ed. (1st ed. 1958). New York: The Macmillan Company and Canada: Collier-Macmillan Ltd., 1967. Husen, O., Petersen, I.G. and Sonne-Hansen, R. Grundbog i genetik, evolution og etologi. Frederikssund: Forlaget Rio-Bio, 1983. Jenkins, Marie M. Embryos and How They Develop. New York: Holiday House, 1975. Kandel, E.R. and Hawkins, R.D. The Biological Basis of Learning and Individuality. Scientific American, Sept. 1992, 79-86. Lane, V. and Molyneaux, D. The Dynamics of Communicative Development. US: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1992. Linden, Eugene. Apes, Men, and Language. US: Saturday Rewiev Press/E.P.Dutton & Co. Inc. Canada: Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1974. MacKinnon, John. Aben i os. Translated by H. Lind. Copenhagen: Branner og Korch, 1980. London: Academic Press, 1978. Damasio, A.R. and H. Brain and Language. Scientific American, Sept. 1992, 89-
IS LANGUAGE UNIQUE TO THE HUMAN SPECIES? Michelsen, Axel. Lyd og liv. Copenhagen: P. Haase & Sons Forlag, 1977. Nathan, Peter. The Nervous System. 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1969). UK: Oxford University Press, 1982. Parker, Gary E. Skabelse og videnskab. Translated by B.Vogel and H.Daugaard. Copenhagen: Lohses Forlag,1995. US: Master Books, 1987. Pinker, Steven. The Language Instinct. US: William Morrow and Company, Inc. and UK: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1994. The Penguin Group, 1995. Pinker, Steven. How The Mind Works. US: W.W. Norton, 1997. UK: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1998. Smith, F. and Miller, G.A. eds. The Genesis of Language - A Psycholinguistic Approach. 3rd ed. (1st ed. 1966). Cambridge Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, 1968. Trask, R.L. Key Concepts in Language and Linguistics. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. Wardhaugh, Ronald. Investigating Language, Central Problems in Linguistics. UK Oxford and US Cambridge: Blackwell, 1993.
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Essay on Which Species Has a Language Most Like Human Language
  • Essay on Language in Chimpanzees and Humans
  • The Human Language Essay
  • language Essay
  • Story of Human Language Essay
  • Animala and Human Language Essay
  • comparing human language Essay
  • Essay on Human

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free