Comparison of Human Language and Animal Communication

Similarity:  Both are composed of SIGNS (forms with meaning)

Six Key Differences:

1. Animal: The signs of animal systems are inborn.

    Human:  The capacity to be creative with signs is inborn,

            but the signs (words) themselves are acquired culturally.

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2. Animal: Communication is set responses to stimuli (indexes).

    Human: Not limited to use as an index.     

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3. Animal: Each sign has one and only one function; each meaning can be expressed only in one way

    Human: Signs often have multiple functions; one meaning can be expresses in many ways

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4. Animal: Not naturally used in novel way

    Human: Creative, can be adapted to new situations

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5. Animal: Closed inventory of signs; only a set number of different messages can be sent

    Human: Open ended.  Grammar (rules of syntax) allows a virtually unlimited number of messages to be constructed

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6. Animal: Change extremely slowly, with the speed of genetic   evolution.

    Human: Change rapidly as a cultural phenomenon.