Researchers at University of Chicago are attempting to better understand how humans learn speech through studying communication in animals.
An opinion piece in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, titled “Language: The Perspective from Organismal Biology” a biologist and a psychologist wrote “We find compelling evidence that language is a phenomenon of evolutionary biology and within the reach of biological investigation.”
Biologist, Daniel Margoliash, and psychologist, Howard Nusbaum, have been able to show that previously held theories on how humans learn speech could be incorrect. It was once thought that the way humans learn speech was unique to humans and not related to the communication processes in other animals.
However, as Margoliash points out “Animals have more intelligence than most people give them credit for…[the problem is that we haven’t had a way to measure that intelligence.” Author T.O. Daria /has said similar things in her book “Dasha’s Journal: A cat’s reflections on Life, Catness and Autism.”
Now there appears to be science behind that claim and makes a strong argument for including evolutionary biology as a means of learning more about how language develops in humans.
Studies previously conducted have not been able to explain how the communication process went through evolution on the way to humans. This is why science has always said that the process is uniquely human.
However, Margoliash was able to use his study results showing that starlings (a type of bird) have a large forebrain substantially devoted to vocal learning whereas monkeys (animals previously studied and thought to be closest to humans) do not.
These studies are helpful because as more children are being diagnosed with autism, some of whom are non-verbal, understanding how humans learn to speak could lead to treatment for non-verbal autistics (as well as other non-verbal humans) and improve quality of life for those individuals.