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date: 26 June 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Do animals have Universal Grammar? The short answer must be ‘no.’ Otherwise, why do human children learn language with strikingly little conscious effort, while no other animal has even come close to approximating human language, even with extensive training or exposure to massive linguistic input? However, many of the cognitive capacities which clearly serve our linguistic ability—rich conceptual systems, vocal imitation, categorical perception, and so on—are shared with other species, including some of our closest living relatives. This suggests that the question is more complicated than it might first appear. In the present work, we use phonology as a case study to show what type of cross-species evidence may bear—now and in future work—on the issue of whether animals have various components of UG, which we construe here broadly as the systems that are recruited by language but need not be specific to it.

Keywords: evolution of language, animal communication, phonology, biolinguistics

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