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Rethinking the language bottleneck: Why don't animals learn to communicate?

Oliphant, Michael (1988) Rethinking the language bottleneck: Why don't animals learn to communicate? [Preprint] (Unpublished)

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Abstract

While most work on the evolution of language has been centered on the evolution of syntax, my focus in this paper is instead on more basic features that separate human communication from the systems of communication used by other animals. In particular, I argue that human language is the only existing system of learned arbitrary reference. While innate communication systems are, by definition, directly transmitted genetically, the transmission of a learned learned systems must be indirect. Learners must acquire the system by being exposed its the use in the community. Although it is reasonable that a learner has access to the utterances that are produced, it is less clear how accessible the meaning is that the utterance is intended to convey. This particularly problematic if the system of communication is symbolic -- where form and meaning are linked in a purely conventional way. Given this, I propose that the ability to transmit a learned symbolic system of communication from one generation to the next represents a key milestone in the evolution of language.

Item Type:Preprint
Keywords:language, communication, evolution of language, symbolic reference, meaning, computation, langauge learnability, observational learning, theory of mind, hebbian learning
Subjects:Biology > Animal Behavior
Biology > Animal Cognition
Biology > Ethology
Biology > Evolution
Computer Science > Language
Computer Science > Dynamical Systems
Computer Science > Neural Nets
Linguistics > Computational Linguistics
Linguistics > Learnability
Linguistics > Semantics
Philosophy > Philosophy of Language
ID Code:197
Deposited By:Oliphant, Michael
Deposited On:15 Jun 1998
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:53

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