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The Origins of Language

What Nonhuman Primates Can Tell Us

Edited by Barbara J. King

Is human language unique in the animal world, or does it have meaningful precursors in animal communication? In The Origins of Language, ten primatologists and paleoanthropologists conduct a comprehensive examination of the nonhuman primate data, discussing different views of what language is and suggesting how the primatological perspective can be used to fashion more rigorous theories of language origins and evolution. Together, the essays make a powerful case against the position that language is an innate biological system unique to humans and demonstrate that many aspects of language likely have a long evolutionary history-one that extends back beyond hominids to encompass our closest living relatives in the animal world.

1999. 464 pp., 19 black-and-white illustrations, 8 tables, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Robbins Burling, Iain Davidson, Kathleen Gibson, Stephen Jessee, Barbara J. King, Dario Maestripieri, Lorraine McCune, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Charles Snowden, Sherman Wilcox

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“[A]ltogether this book stimulates many ideas from one approach to language origins. It is well written, thoroughly referenced, and makes a substantial contribution to the ongoing discussion of this issue.”
—Anne Zeller, The Semiotic Review of Books, vol. 14.2 (2004)


  1. Introduction: Primatological Perspectives on Language
    Barbara J. King
  2. Viewed from Up Close: Monkeys, Apes, and Language-Origins Theories
    Barbara J. King
  3. Primate Social Organization, Gestural Repertoire Size, and Communication Dynamics: A Comparative Study of Macaques
    Dario Maestripieri
  4. An Empiricist View of Language Evolution and Development
    Charles T. Snowdon
  5. Ape Language: Between a Rock and Hard Place
    Sue Savage-Rumbaugh
  6. Language Evolution and Expansions of Multiple Neurological Processing Areas
    Kathleen R. Gibson and Stephen Jessee
  7. The Game of the Name: Continuity and Discontinuity in Language Origins
    Iain Davidson
  8. Children’s Transition ot Language: A Human Model for Development of the Vocal Repertoire in Extant and Ancestral Primate Species?
    Lorriane McCune
  9. Motivation, Conventionalization, and Arbitrariness in the Origin of Language
    Robbins Burling
  10. The Invention and Ritualization of Language
    Sherman Wilcox

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.