Studying Social Communication in Primates: From Ethology and Comparative Zoology to Social Primatology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Evolutionary Linguistics

  • Nathalie GontierEmail author
  • Marco Pina
Part of the Interdisciplinary Evolution Research book series (IDER, volume 1)


Research fields adhere to particular epistemic frameworks that outline the methodological rules of conduct on how to study and interpret primate behavior as both social and communicative. Since the onset of social communication studies, epistemic focus has shifted from behaviorist observations to an examination of the cognitive and neurological capacities that underlie the observed communicative behavior and subsequently, toward an investigation of the evolutionary units, levels, and mechanisms whereby social communication evolved. This volume brings together scholars from within these diverse fields who (1) investigate the historical and epistemic roots of the primate communication/human language divide; (2) identify and analyze the building blocks of social communication; (3) examine how primate social communication strategies are evolutionary precursors of human language; and (4) analyze how social communication differs from human language. In their chapters, the contributors explain the merits and pitfalls of their field-specific epistemic approaches. They compare them to other theoretical frameworks and they give guidelines on how theory formation on the origin and evolution of social communication in primates can be enhanced by allowing for epistemic plurality.


Social communication Language Epistemology Philosophy of science 



We thank the Portuguese Fund for Science and Technology (SFRH/BPD/89195/2012) as well as the American John Templeton Foundation (Grant ID 36288) for their support. We are grateful to Slawomir Wacewicz for proofreading the text for English orthography.


  1. Arbib M, Bickerton D (eds) (2010) The emergence of protolanguage: holophrasis vs compositionality. John Benjamins, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  2. Armstrong D, Stokoe W, Wilcox S (1995) Gesture and the nature of language. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Axelrod R (1981) The evolution of cooperation. Science 211:1390–1396PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baars BJ (1986) The cognitive revolution in psychology. Guilford Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  5. Barrett L, Dunbar RI, Lycett J (2002) Human evolutionary psychology. Palgrave, HampshireGoogle Scholar
  6. Bickerton D (1984) The language bioprogram hypothesis. Behav Brain Sci 7(2):173–188Google Scholar
  7. Boyle KV, Bar-Yosef O, Stringer C, Mellars P (2007) Rethinking the Human Revolution. McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research: Mcdonald Institute Monographs, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  8. Byrne R, Whiten A (eds) (1988) Machiavellian inheritance: social expertise and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes, and humans. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  9. Chomsky N (1959) A review of BF Skinner’s verbal behavior. Language 35(1):26–58Google Scholar
  10. Chomsky N (1965) Aspects of the theory of syntax. The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Chomsky N (1972) Language and mind. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Corballis MC (2002) From hand to mouth: the origins of language. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  13. Cosmides L, Tooby J (1994) Beyond intuition and instinct blindness: toward an evolutionary rigorous cognitive science. Cognition 50:41–77PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Darwin C (1872) The expression of the emotions in man and animals. John Murray, LondonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Donald M (1991) Origins of the modern mind. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Dunbar R (1996) Grooming, gossip and the evolution of language. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  17. Fitch WT (2000) The evolution of speech: a comparative approach. Trends Cogn Sci 4(7):258–267PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fossey D (1983) Gorillas in the mist. Houghton and Mifflin Company, BostonGoogle Scholar
  19. Fouts R, Mills S (1997) Next of kin, what chimpanzees have taught me about who we are. Perennial Currents, HarperCollins Paperbacks, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Gardner RA, Gardner BT (1969) Teaching sign language to a chimpanzee. Science 165:664–672PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gardner RA, Gardner BT, Van Cantfort TE (eds) (1989) Teaching sign language to chimpanzees. State University of New York Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Goodall J (1986) The chimpanzees of Gombe: patterns of behaviour. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Gontier N (2006) Pathologies and the origin of language: an epistemological reflection. Cogn Syst 7(1):35–62Google Scholar
  24. Gontier N (2009) The origin of the social approach in language and cognitive research exemplified by studies into the origin of language. In: Pishwa H (ed) Language and social cognition: expressions of the social mind. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp 25–46Google Scholar
  25. Gontier N (2010) How to identify the units, levels and mechanisms of language evolution. In: Smith ADM, Schouwstra M, de Boer B, Smith K (eds) The evolution of language: proceedings of the 8th international conference (EVOLANG 8). World Scientific, London, pp 176–183Google Scholar
  26. Gontier N (2012a) Applied evolutionary epistemology: a new methodology to enhance interdisciplinary research between the human and natural sciences. Kairos J Philos Sci 4:7–49Google Scholar
  27. Gontier N (2012b) Selectionist approaches in evolutionary linguistics: an epistemological analysis. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 26:67–95Google Scholar
  28. Haldane JBS, Huxley J (1927) Animal biology. Clarendon, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  29. Hamilton WD (1964) The genetic evolution of social behavior, I and II. J Theor Biol 7:1–52PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hauser MD, Chomsky N, Fitch WT (2002) The faculty of language: what is it, who has it, and how did it evolve? Science 298:1569–1580PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Heinroth H (1910) Beiträge zur Biologie, namentlich Ethologie und Psychologie der Anatiden. Berichte des V. Int. Ornithologen Kongresses, Berlin: S. 559ffGoogle Scholar
  32. Hurford J, Studdert-Kennedy M, Knight C (eds) (1998) Approaches to the evolution of language. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  33. Jenkins L (2000) Biolinguistics: exploring the biology of language. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kellog WN, Kellog LA (1933) The ape and the child. Hafner Publishing Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  35. Knight C, Studdert-Kennedy M, Hurford J (eds) (2000) The evolutionary emergence of language. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Kuhn TS (1962) The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  37. Leavens DA, Hopkins WD, Bard KA (2005) Understanding the point of chimpanzee pointing: Epigenesis and ecological validity. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 14(4):185–189PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lorenz K (1937) Biologische Fragestellungen in der Tierpsychologie. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 1:24–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Lorenz K (1941) Kant’s Lehre vom Apriorischen im Lichte gegenwärtiger Biologie. Blätter für Deutsche Philosophie 15:94–125Google Scholar
  40. Lorenz K (1958) The evolution of behaviour. Sci Am 199(6):67–78PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. MacNeilage P (1998) Evolution of the mechanism of language output: comparative neurobiology of vocal and manual communication. In: Hurford J, Studdert-Kennedy M, Knight C (eds) Approaches to the evolution of language. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 222–241Google Scholar
  42. McBrearty S, Brooks A (2000) The revolution that wasn’t: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behaviour. J Hum Evol 39:453–563PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mellar PA, Stringer C (1989) The human revolution: behavioral and biological perspectives on the origins of modern humans. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  44. Mithen S (2006) The singing Neanderthals: the origin of music, language, mind and body. George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  45. Morris D, Collett P, Marsh P, O’ Shaghnessy M (1979) Gestures: their origin and distribution. Stein and Day, MinnesotaGoogle Scholar
  46. Patterson FG (1978) The gestures of a gorilla: language acquisition in another pongid. Brain Lang 5(1):72–97PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Piaget J (1972) The principles of genetic epistemology. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  48. Piattelli-Palmarini M (ed) (1980) Language and learning: the debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsky. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  49. Pinker S, Bloom P (1990) Natural language and natural selection. Behav Bran Sci 13(4):707–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Puppel S (ed) (1995) The biology of language. John Benjamins Publishing Company, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  51. Rumbaugh DM (ed) (1977) Language learning by a chimpanzee: the Lana project. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  52. Savage-Rumbaugh ES (1986) Ape language: from conditioned response to symbol. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  53. Skinner BF (1957) Verbal behaviour. Appleton-Century Crofts Inc, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Skinner BF (1986) The evolution of verbal behaviour. J Exp Anal Behav 45:115–122PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Steels L (2002) Language as a complex adaptive system. In: Brisard F, Mortelmans T (eds) Language and evolution. Universiteit Antwerpen: Departement Germaanse Talen, Afdeling Linguïstiek, pp 79–88. [Antwerp Papers in Linguistics, 101]Google Scholar
  56. Tallerman M (2007) Did our ancestors speak a holistic protolanguage? Lingua 117:579–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Thorndike E (1911) Animal intelligence: experimental studies. The Macmillan Company, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Terrace HS (1979) Nim. Knopf, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  59. Tinbergen N (1963) On aims and methods of ethology. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 20(4):410–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Tomasello M (2000) The cultural origins of human cognition. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  61. Tomasello M, Call J (1997) Primate cognition. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  62. Whiten A, Byrne R (eds) (1997) Machiavellian intelligence II: extensions and evaluations. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  63. Tyson E (1699) Orang-Outang, sive Homo sylvestris: or the anatomy of a Pygmie compared with that of a monkey, an ape and a man. To which is added, a philological essay concerning the pygmies, the cynocephali, the satyrs, and sphinges of the Ancients. Wherein it will appear that they are all either apes or monkeys, and not men, as formerly pretended. LondonGoogle Scholar
  64. von Uexküll JJ (1909) Umwelt und Innenwelt der Tiere. Springer, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  65. Watson JB (1913) Psychology as the behaviorist views it. Psychol Rev 20:158–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wilson EO (1975) Sociobiology: the new synthesis. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  67. Winsor M (1991) Reading the shape of nature, comparative zoology at the Agassiz museum. The University of Chicago press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab, Centre for Philosophy of Science, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal

Personalised recommendations