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Hardcover | $11.75 Short | £9.95 | 368 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 25 b&w illus. | August 2008 | ISBN: 9780262151214
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Evolution of Communicative Flexibility

Complexity, Creativity, and Adaptability in Human and Animal Communication


The evolutionary roots of human communication are difficult to trace, but recent comparative research suggests that the first key step in that evolutionary history may have been the establishment of basic communicative flexibility—the ability to vocalize freely combined with the capability to coordinate vocalization with communicative intent. The contributors to this volume investigate how some species (particularly ancient hominids) broke free of the constraints of “fixed signals,” actions that were evolved to communicate but lack the flexibility of language—a newborn infant’s cry, for example, always signals distress and has a stereotypical form not modifiable by the crying baby. Fundamentally, the contributors ask what communicative flexibility is and what evolutionary conditions can produce it. The accounts offered in these chapters are notable for taking the question of language origins farther back in evolutionary time than in much previous work. Many contributors address the very earliest communicative break of the hominid line from the primate background; others examine the evolutionary origins of flexibility in, for example, birds and marine mammals. The volume’s interdisciplinary theoretical perspectives illuminate issues that are on the cutting edge of recent research on this topic.

Contributors: Stéphanie Barbu, Curt Burgess, Josep Call, Laurance Doyle, Julia Fischer, Michael Goldstein, Ulrike Griebel, Kurt Hammerschmidt, Sean Hanser, Martine Hausberger, Laurence Henry, Allison Kaufman, Stan Kuczaj, Robert F. Lachlan, Brian MacWhinney, Radhika Makecha, Brenda McCowan, D. Kimbrough Oller, Michael Owren, Ron Schusterman, Charles T. Snowdon, Kim Sterelny, Benoît Testé, Gert Westermann

About the Editor

D. Kimbrough Oller is Professor and Plough Chair of Excellence in the School of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Memphis and an external faculty member of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria. He is coeditor, with Ulrike Griebel, of Evolution of Communications Systems: A Comparative Approach (MIT Press, 2004).


“From talking parrots and femme fatale fireflies to singing seals and human children, the authors leave few stones unturned in this wide-ranging and up-to-date survey. The topic— how organisms evolve flexible communication systems— is one of central relevance to the evolution of human spoken language.”
W. Tecumseh Fitch, University of St Andrews