or animals to survive it is imperative that they understand their environment. While individuals may be able to interpret the world on their own, it is much more efficient to learn from others. Because it is beneficial to gain information from others, evolution has produced multiple means of information sharing throughout the animal kingdom. This transfer of information is what we have come to call communication.
This idea that human language is part of a spectrum of information sharing, rather than being an autonomous adaptation, is fundamental to my own interests. Broadly, I study anthropology, which is the study of humankind. While it does focus on humans, anthropology also includes comparative research that looks at our closest evolutionary relatives, non-human primates. I recently conducted a project with Dr. BirutĂŠ Galdikas, president of the conservation organization, Orangutan Foundation International. We examined communication in one of humankindâ€™s closest living relatives, the Bornean orangutan. Unlike humans, orangutans are a solitary species. However, they do interact with one another during important life events, such as during mating
Though animals can learn by watching fellow group members, complex life lessons often require more clarity and direct communication. While in humans much communication takes place through spoken, written, and sign language, information sharing among other animals takes many other formsâ€”scent secretion, body posture, coloration, electroreception, and dancing, to name a few. All of these can send important messages to fellow groupmates and to potential predators. At its core, human language serves no unique purpose compared to that of any other means of animal communication.
The journal of the University of Oregon Environmental Studies Program