chapter  3
26 Pages

Vocal and gestural communication in nonhuman primates and the question of the origin of language


Human language is an extraordinary and unique means of communication, which involves complex cognitive functions like intentionality, generativity, elaboration, and comprehension of syntax, empathy, imitation, invention and manipulation of symbols, conceptual representations, categorization, referential cues, etc. In investigating the question of language origin, linguists often discount the views of primatologists, even though they have important contributions to make to the multidisciplinary effort necessary to deal with language evolution (Christiansen & Kirby, 2003; Hauser et al., 2002). Since nonhuman primates are phylogenetically very close to humans, research on our cousins can provide essential clues for inferring the features of our ancestral communication systems. Thus, a prime question for primatologists is to investigate whether direct precursors of language in the communicative behaviours of nonhuman primates.