Did Human Language Come From Birds?

Researchers from MIT and the University of Tokyo now believe that evidence suggests human language originally came in part from the songs of birds.

Shigeru Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics at MIT, has taken from the works of noted linguistics experts Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser in a recent paper he has co-authored on the subject.

"The Emergence of Hierarchical Structure in Human Language," was co-written by MIT computational linguistics professor Robert Berwick and Kazuo Okanoya, a biopsychologist at the University of Tokyo.

Okanoya is also an expert on animal communication.

Miyagawa believes that "there are two 'layers' in all human languages: an 'expression' layer, which involves the changeable organization of sentences, and a 'lexical' layer, which relates to the core content of a sentence," says Science Daily.

"It's this adventitious combination that triggered human language," says Miyagawa in reference to the notion that birdsong might have had something to do with the development of our own mode of communication.

With Miyagawa's framework in mind, the aforementioned researchers are proposing the conclusion that "birdsong closely resembles the expression layer of human sentences -- whereas the communicative waggles of bees, or the short, audible messages of primates, are more like the lexical layer.

"At some point, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans may have merged these two types of expression into a uniquely sophisticated form of language."

Miyagawa makes the comparison between apples and oranges that were at some point placed together.

In the same manner as primates or bees, the researchers note, humans can communicate intrinsic data. But similar to birds, mankind possesses a melodic ability along with an facility for bringing together facets of our "uttered language."

The researchers also suggest that human beings could first sing, as Charles Darwin once supposed, "and then managed to integrate specific lexical elements into those songs," says Science Daily.

"It's not a very long step to say that what got joined together was the ability to construct these complex patterns, like a song, but with words," says Berwick.

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