What makes language special?
Readings: Hockett (1960); Burling (1993)
Tip: Always read the papers in the order listed on these pages. They will make more sense that way.
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- What is the comparative method? How can it help us understand the origins of language?
- You should be familiar with the design features of language that Hockett describes and which are unique to language vs. which are shared with other animal communication systems.
- Importantly: is language a closed system or an open system? What are the differences between these two types of system?
- What is a gesture-call system?
- In what ways is the human gesture-call system different from that of nonhuman primates? In what ways is it similar?
- Why are alarm calls (e.g., those of vervet monkeys) useful in thinking about differences between langauge and other communication systems?
- What does it mean to talk about “graded/continuous” vs. “contrastive/digital” communication systems. What are examples of each?
- Where do “oh-oh” expressions, conventional gestures, iconic gestures, and intonations (prosody) come? Are any of these part of the gesture-call system? Why or why not?
- What is the human gesture-call system and how does thinking about human gesture-calls help us think about the origin of language?