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Chapter 4 A comparative perspective on the etiology of meaning and assaying behaviors for meaning

Elsevier Science & Technology
DOI: 10.1016/s0166-4115(97)80136-7
  • Biology
  • Linguistics
  • Psychology


Summary The 20th century will be noted for a wide variety of scientific and technological advancements, including powered flight, antibiotics, space travel, and the breaking of the genetic code. It also should be noted as the century in which major psychological, as well as biological, continuities between animal and human have been defined. Several of the studies that define those continuities have served to help understand the acquisition and function of meaning, which, in turn, is thebasis of language. Charles Darwin (1859, 1871) was quite right when he anticipated continuity in mental processes, some of which provide for language. Though node will argue that any animal has the full capacity of humans for language, none should deny that at least some animals have very impressive competencies for language skills, including speech comprehension. The finding that the language skills of the bonobo and the chimpanzee are likely more fully and efficiently developed as a result of early rearing than by formal training at a later age declares a continuity even stronger than that defined by the language-acquisition potential of the ape. To clarify, because early rearing facilitates the emergence of language in ape as well as in child, a naturalness to the familiar course of language acquisition, whereby comprehension precedes production, is also corroborated. In turn, the continuity and the shared naturalness of language acquisition serve jointly to define an advanced and critical point of linkage between the genus, Pan, and our own-one worthy of contributing to the series of reconceptions of ourselves (Bruner, 1972; Domjan, 1993, p. 391).

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