Re: Paper on chimp culture

Mark M. Mills (
Fri, 18 Jun 1999 12:33:54 -0400

Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 12:33:54 -0400
From: "Mark M. Mills" <>
Subject: Re: Paper on chimp culture
In-Reply-To: <>


At 09:02 AM 6/18/99 +0200, you wrote:

>But far less efficient than human infants, especially for spoken language.
>they lack our anatomical speaking capacities and probably are far less
>in picking up syntactical meanings of all the different intonations we use.

Based on primate language research, there is little difference in human/ape
hearing. The big difference is vocal expression. A couple of researchers
claim their chimps develop a 2 or 3 year old's understanding of English
(the research team's language).

>No problem, but the system language existed and was being used. So it was not
>invented from scratch by the chimps.

As I mentioned before, the 'invention' of creole language by human children
suggests a highly creative component within the language acquisition
process. No human 'invents' their language from scratch, but all children
invent words. It seems this 'instinct to acquire and invent language'
exists in chimps as well as humans. Chimp language research documents a
wide variety of creative innovation in language symbols. An example of
this is 'joking' or word play. Several chimp language researchers report a
great deal of chimp word play. (something this human author has lost.)

>I don't say chimps are unable to learn
>language, the claim is that language was not developed by chimps (despite
>possibility to learn it when it exists). So, humans had some capacities
which made
>it possible that language emerged 'spontaneously' from their interactions.
That is
>one of the claims of our article: not that we are specially gifted with
>genes, but that several preadaptations (adaptations for other reasons than
>language) came together, from which language arose as a cultural phenomenon.

I guess I'm suggesting we consider reversing your chain of causation. Your
hypothesis suggest language emerged from pre-existing vocal adaptations.
Why not consider the option that vocal adaptation emerged from pre-existing
'self-talk' adaptations? In other words, perhaps human vocalization
represents a breakthrough in expression of pre-existing mental processes.

>I should disagree, but have no evidence to support my view. Do you have
>that they [chimps] talk to theirselves? On the other hand, I would like to

I'll post some references this weekend.


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