Talking primates: human language vs chimp communication

 

Part of the Cafe Scientifique programme at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 

Dr Simon Fisher, Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen

Dr Bridget Waller, Department of Psychology, University of Portsmouth

A human child's extraordinary capacity to acquire spoken language is one of the great mysteries of our species. By studying people with inherited language problems, scientists are starting to identify the genes that help us learn to speak. The most well-known of these genes is one called FOXP2. Interestingly, chimpanzees carry a different version of FOXP2 from humans. Could genetic differences like this explain why there are no talking chimpanzees? Or does the ability of primates to communicate using complex calls represent a form of language in itself?

Join us for a cup of coffee and have fun discussing the similarities and differences between chimpanzee and human communication. We will consider fascinating questions such as, is human language qualitatively different and distinct from animal communication? Can you call animal communication a language? And finally, is it our language that truly makes us human. This event will be chaired by Dr Dora Biro, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.

This event is part of the Cafe Scientifique programme at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. Cafes will take place in the Terrace Cafe. They are free and open for all to attend, just grab a drink and get talking! Audience participation is strongly encouraged. The Terrace cafe is down 9 steps and is not wheelchair accessible.

Speaker Biographies

Dr Simon Fisher is an honorary research fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (WTCHG), University of Oxford, UK and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. In 2008, Simon was awarded the Francis Crick Prize Lecture by the Royal Society, and in 2009 he received the first ever Eric Kandel Young Neuroscientists Prize, an international award established by the Hertie Foundation. In 2009, he was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Biology.

Dr Bridget Waller is currently a Senior Lecturer and Acting Director of the Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Portsmouth. She is also a Visiting Scholar at the Cluster Languages of Emotion at Frei Universitat Berlin. Dr Waller studied Zoology as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway University of London and later completed her MSc in Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Liverpool. She completed her PhD in 2005, working on the Chimpanzee Facial Action Coding Scheme project.

An audio recording of this event and interviews with Dr Simon Fisher and Dr Bridget Waller are now available.

Talking primates: human language vs chimp communication 6-9 Carlton House Terrace London SW1Y 5AG UK

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