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The Evolutionary Emergence of LanguageEvidence and Inference$
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Rudolf Botha and Martin Everaert

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199654840

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199654840.001.0001

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FoxP2 and deep homology in the evolution of birdsong and human language *

FoxP2 and deep homology in the evolution of birdsong and human language *

(p.223) 12 FoxP2 and deep homology in the evolution of birdsong and human language*
The Evolutionary Emergence of Language

Alan Langus

Jana Petri

Marina Nespor

Constance Scharff

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on a number of striking parallels between spoken language and birdsong. It suggests that, in principle, distinct attributes of human language exist in other species to distinct degrees. The parallels in question may constitute an interesting source of information about the evolution of human language. The first part of the chapter draws upon a large body of work and proposes that birdsong and human language share features in the domains of sensory-motor processes (perception and production), conceptual-intentional processes (semantics), the computational system (syntax, roughly speaking), and acquisition. The second part surveys converging evidence both for the relevance to language of the FoxP2 gene and its associated molecular network, and for the role of this gene in the acquisition and production of birdsong. There is increasing evidence that human language and non-human communication systems alike may rely on conserved molecular tool kits that act as genetic modules. These could possibly specify the neural circuits that subserve the behaviours at issue, and that organize their functions. Elucidating these genetic modules promises insights into the evolution of language and other complex traits.

Keywords:   spoken language, birds, language evolution, sensory motor processes, conceptual-intentional processes, computational system

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