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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Language acquisition

The Yerkes National Primate Center in Atlanta GA has come up with some interesting but not very startling ideas about the acquisition of language in early humans from study of the behaviour of Bonobos and Chimps. This week’s New Scientist carries the full article.
Human spoken language they postulate, may have evolved from a complex and varied set of hand and arm gestures, not simply through improvements in the basic vocalisations made by primates.
Bonobos and chimps both split from the line that led to Homo sapiens about six million years ago, and they themselves parted about 2.5 million years ago. However, several lines of evidence suggest we are slightly closer to bonobos than we are to chimps. De Waal says that their work suggests bonobos are a more useful species for understanding the evolution of language. For one thing, they seem to have moved further from the common ancestor, at least in terms of the complexity of their communication, than have chimps.

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