Is Animal Communication Language? Mark Hauser Explores.
Animal communication is a complex and varied field that encompasses a wide range of signals, including visual, auditory, tactile, and even chemical, and electrical signals. These signals are used by animals for a variety of purposes such as mating, detecting predators, territoriality, fear, aggression, and food discovery. Some animals can even communicate specific information, such as the presence of predators or the location of food.
However, evolutionary biologist Mark Hauser said that animal signals cannot be considered language. Unlike words, which are conversational and arbitrary, animal signals are emotional, innate, immutable, and involuntary. Animal signals are unidirectional and never add new information, whereas words can be translated into any language and used in a conversation. Additionally, people can learn an infinite number of words, while animals have a limited number of signals.
Animal signals are used to manipulate another animal’s behavior, while words are used to share and exchange information. Language allows for arbitrary and conversational words, while animal communication is rigid and inflexible. For example, a chimpanzee can be trained to make a gesture in response to an object, but it only does so to obtain a reward. In contrast, an infant learns to say a word to share their perception of an object with a parent and expects a reply.
The vast difference between animal communication and language makes it difficult to explain how language evolved from animal communication. Both Noam Chomsky, known as “the father of modern linguistics” and Alfred Wallace, co-founder of the theory of evolution, questioned the evolution of language by natural selection. Wallace believed that natural selection could not account for the large and well-developed brain of humans. However, Hauser indicates it is likely they were unable to comprehend how natural selection could account for language because they failed to recognize that words and grammar evolved separately, with words evolving before grammar.
The origin of words is difficult to explain, but it is easier than the origin of grammar. Recent attempts have been made to explain the origin of words in Homo sapiens and other species. It is believed that words evolved as a way to convey specific information about objects and events in the environment. However, Hauser said the evolution of grammar is still an open question.
One theory suggests that grammar evolved as a way to combine words into complex sentences, allowing for more nuanced and sophisticated communication. Another theory proposes that grammar evolved as a way to express social relationships and hierarchies, allowing for more effective social interactions.
Regardless of how things evolved, it is clear that language is one of the most complex and remarkable abilities of humans. Language allows us to share and exchange information in a way that no other animal can. However, Mark Hauser has indicated that by recognizing the differences between animal communication and language, we can begin to understand how the latter evolved from the former.