Volume 19, Issue 1-2
  • ISSN 1572-0373
  • E-ISSN: 1572-0381
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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.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): behaviour; comparative; human; language evolution; monkey; neuroimaging; sequence processing; syntax

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