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From evolutionarily conserved frontal regions for sequence processing to human innovations for syntax

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Ben Wilson, Professor Christopher Petkov


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© John Benjamins Publishing Company. Empirical advances have been made in understanding how human language, in its combinatorial complexity and unbounded expressivity, May have evolved from the communication systems present in our evolutionary ancestors. However, a number of cognitive processes and neurobiological mechanisms that support language May not have evolved specifically for communication, but rather from abilities that support perception and cognition more generally. We review recent evidence from comparative behavioural and neurobiological studies on structured sequence learning in human and nonhuman primates. These studies support the notion that certain sequence learning abilities are evolutionarily conserved and engage corresponding inferior frontal brain regions across the species, regions also involved in processing language in humans. Alongside the cross-species similarities is evidence for human specialisations, illuminating the likely evolutionary pathways towards language in modern humans. We argue that cognitive abilities that were in place for animals to learn combinatorial relationships in the sensory world were available and co-opted for language in humans.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Wilson B, Petkov CI

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Interaction Studies

Year: 2018

Volume: 19

Issue: 1-2

Pages: 318-335

Print publication date: 01/09/2018

Online publication date: 17/09/2018

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

ISSN (print): 1572-0373

ISSN (electronic): 1572-0381

Publisher: John Benjamins Publishing Company


DOI: 10.1075/is.17038.wil


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