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      Atypical birdsong and artificial languages provide insights into how communication systems are shaped by learning, use, and transmission

      Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

      Springer US

      Birdsong, Artificial languages, Language evolution

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          Abstract

          In this article, I argue that a comparative approach focusing on the cognitive capacities and behavioral mechanisms that underlie vocal learning in songbirds and humans can provide valuable insights into the evolutionary origins of language. The experimental approaches I discuss use abnormal song and atypical linguistic input to study the processes of individual learning, social interaction, and cultural transmission. Atypical input places increased learning and communicative pressure on learners, so exploring how they respond to this type of input provides a particularly clear picture of the biases and constraints at work during learning and use. Furthermore, simulating the cultural transmission of these unnatural communication systems in the laboratory informs us about how learning and social biases influence the structure of communication systems in the long run. Findings based on these methods suggest fundamental similarities in the basic social–cognitive mechanisms underlying vocal learning in birds and humans, and continuing research promises insights into the uniquely human mechanisms and into how human cognition and social behavior interact, and ultimately impact on the evolution of language.

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          Most cited references 90

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          Social categorization and intergroup behaviour

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            Birdsong and human speech: common themes and mechanisms.

             P Kuhl,  A Doupe (1998)
            Human speech and birdsong have numerous parallels. Both humans and songbirds learn their complex vocalizations early in life, exhibiting a strong dependence on hearing the adults they will imitate, as well as themselves as they practice, and a waning of this dependence as they mature. Innate predispositions for perceiving and learning the correct sounds exist in both groups, although more evidence of innate descriptions of species-specific signals exists in songbirds, where numerous species of vocal learners have been compared. Humans also share with songbirds an early phase of learning that is primarily perceptual, which then serves to guide later vocal production. Both humans and songbirds have evolved a complex hierarchy of specialized forebrain areas in which motor and auditory centers interact closely, and which control the lower vocal motor areas also found in nonlearners. In both these vocal learners, however, how auditory feedback of self is processed in these brain areas is surprisingly unclear. Finally, humans and songbirds have similar critical periods for vocal learning, with a much greater ability to learn early in life. In both groups, the capacity for late vocal learning may be decreased by the act of learning itself, as well as by biological factors such as the hormones of puberty. Although some features of birdsong and speech are clearly not analogous, such as the capacity of language for meaning, abstraction, and flexible associations, there are striking similarities in how sensory experience is internalized and used to shape vocal outputs, and how learning is enhanced during a critical period of development. Similar neural mechanisms may therefore be involved.
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              Toward a mechanistic psychology of dialogue.

              Traditional mechanistic accounts of language processing derive almost entirely from the study of monologue. Yet, the most natural and basic form of language use is dialogue. As a result, these accounts may only offer limited theories of the mechanisms that underlie language processing in general. We propose a mechanistic account of dialogue, the interactive alignment account, and use it to derive a number of predictions about basic language processes. The account assumes that, in dialogue, the linguistic representations employed by the interlocutors become aligned at many levels, as a result of a largely automatic process. This process greatly simplifies production and comprehension in dialogue. After considering the evidence for the interactive alignment model, we concentrate on three aspects of processing that follow from it. It makes use of a simple interactive inference mechanism, enables the development of local dialogue routines that greatly simplify language processing, and explains the origins of self-monitoring in production. We consider the need for a grammatical framework that is designed to deal with language in dialogue rather than monologue, and discuss a range of implications of the account.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                olga.feher@ed.ac.uk
                Journal
                Psychon Bull Rev
                Psychon Bull Rev
                Psychonomic Bulletin & Review
                Springer US (New York )
                1069-9384
                1531-5320
                20 July 2016
                20 July 2016
                2017
                : 24
                : 1
                : 97-105
                Affiliations
                ISNI 0000 0004 1936 7988, GRID grid.4305.2, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, , University of Edinburgh, ; Edinburgh, UK
                1107
                10.3758/s13423-016-1107-5
                5325865
                27439502
                © The Author(s) 2016

                Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

                Funding
                Funded by: FundRef http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100000269, Economic and Social Research Council;
                Award ID: ES/K006339
                Categories
                Brief Report
                Custom metadata
                © Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry

                language evolution, artificial languages, birdsong

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