Review

Evolution of vocal learning and spoken language

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Science  04 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6461, pp. 50-54
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0287

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Abstract

Although language, and therefore spoken language or speech, is often considered unique to humans, the past several decades have seen a surge in nonhuman animal studies that inform us about human spoken language. Here, I present a modern, evolution-based synthesis of these studies, from behavioral to molecular levels of analyses. Among the key concepts drawn are that components of spoken language are continuous between species, and that the vocal learning component is the most specialized and rarest and evolved by brain pathway duplication from an ancient motor learning pathway. These concepts have important implications for understanding brain mechanisms and disorders of spoken language.

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