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March 6 2013

How Human Language Could Have Evolved from Birdsong: New Theory On Deep Roots of Human Speech


"The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language," Charles Darwin wrote in "The Descent Of Man" (1871), while contemplating how humans learned to speak. Language, he speculated, might have had its origins in singing, which "might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions."

Now researchers from MIT, along with a scholar from the University of Tokyo, say that Darwin was on the right path. The balance of evidence, they believe, suggests that human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the more utilitarian, information-bearing types of expression seen in a diversity of other animals.

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