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How human language evolved from bird songs

world Updated: Feb 23, 2013 00:41 IST
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While contemplating how humans learned to speak, Charles Darwin wrote “the sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language,” in The Descent of Man (1871).

Language, he speculated, might have had its origins in singing, which “might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions.”

Researchers at MIT, along with a scholar from the University of Tokyo, say Darwin was on the right path. They suggest that human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom — first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the expression seen in a diversity of other animals. “It’s this adventitious combination that triggered human language,” Shigeru Miyagawa, a professor of linguistics at MIT, said.