Pub. date: 2006 | Online Pub. Date: September 15, 2007 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412952453 | Print ISBN: 9780761930297 | Online ISBN: 9781412952453| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
James L. Gould
Work in animal behavior, and in particular cognitive ethology, has shown that most of the differences in kind once thought to distinguish humans from other animals are actually differences in degree. The one behavior where a huge gap still seems to exist is language. Language is best defined as a communication system that employs arbitrary signals to refer to things distant in time or space. It is not simply a way of advertising a creature's species and sex—the role of the vast majority of animal communication. Thus, the flashing of fireflies, olfactory signaling of moths, croaking of frogs, and mate attraction calls of birds are specific here-and-now signals; they are no more a matter of language than are body shapes or the movements involved in locomotion. One scenario for the evolution of language is that it developed from preexisting systems of animal communication. This hypothesis suggests ...