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Acquired mirroring and intentional communication in primates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2014

Klaus Zuberbühler*
School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, Scotland; Institute of Biology, Department of Comparative Cognition, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland. E-mail:


Arbib offers a coherent proposal of how the brain has evolved to become language-capable. Integral to the argument are mirror neurons, cells discovered in macaque brains with interesting firing patterns, and studies on gestural communication of great apes. Here, I first discuss some complexities of the recent mirror neuron literature, which suggest that ‘mirroring’ may be an ontogenetically acquired, not an evolved, feature of neurons. Second, it is now clear that chimpanzee vocal behaviour is strongly mediated by social variables, and that individuals can use vocalisations to persuade and inform others, facts that have implications for gestural theories of language evolution. I conclude with discussing research most needed for making progress in understanding how human language has evolved.

Learning from primate communication
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2013

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