Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Importance of Communication

We use language in our everyday lives to ask for something, exchange opinions, and learn about different ideas. Language is obviously very important, but why did it evolve in the first place? Better yet, why do we have so many languages instead of simply one? Wouldn’t it be easier to communicate with all different people without this language barrier? In addition to broaden the subject, in the Campbell Biology book we read about how different organisms communicate. One of creatures was the honeybee, which dances in order to exchange information with its hive about the location of food. The honeybees don’t simply point a direction, but they also give the distance of the food with their extravagant “waggle dance”. What are other ways organisms communicate that don’t use speech like we do? Give an example and, if possible, the reason it may have evolved.


  1. A form of communication used by many animals the use of bodily positions. For example, seen in the Herring Gull, this bird taps the ground in front of its fledglings after gathering food. This elicits a response from the babies to peck on the red spot of the gull, causing the gull to give the food to the chicks.

    Another form is through the use of aggression in response to predators or competition for food or mates. This communication could range from anything to a growl from a wolf or to the beating of a chest from an ape. The animal that sees the action will likely retreat, preventing a battle that would prevent injuries on both side. This is a selective advantage contributing to evolution since the animals that retreat from intimidating foes will survive longer. Those animals that don't heed warnings and attack nonetheless, they would have died, lowering the fitness of this behavior.

    Not even necessarily in an action, the mere passive state of a species can communicate much to an oncoming organism. For example, brightly colored wasps indicate to other animals of danger, not requiring the wasp to be attacked or counterattack in response. This would naturally increase the fitness of the wasp.

    Pheromones also act as a means to communication, using chemical signals to convey information. Fish often use these signal due to their aquatic environment, allowing the chemicals to efficiently reach its targets. The catfish, when injured, releases a pheromone to nearby schools of fish to hide. This would reduce the likelihood of the rest of the catfish also being injured, acting as a selective advantage for the species. This is an example of an alarm pheromone.

    The communication done by animals is largely done by instinct; in contrast, we humans communicate based on the culture that we have grown up in. Animals don't seem to be able to communicate concepts as it is unlikely they are capable of even understanding concepts. Animal communication methods are very numerous and have evolved in order to help that particular species survive.


  2. Communication is something essential for the life of an animal, especially during reproduction. Verbal language happens to be one way that humans communicate, along with body language. Animals on the other hand use many different methods in order to get a message across to their families regarding where to find food, how to avoid predators, and communication regarding courtship for reproduction. One example is the fruit fly courtship which involves many different methods of communication. First, it involves visual communication when the male spots the female and acknowledges that she is a female of the same species. The fly then can use chemical communication when it uses its sense of smell to detect the chemicals that the female releases. These chemicals are considered pheromones because they are odors that are emited through chemicals. Once the male knows that this female is of the same species, he will tap the female with one of its legs which is a form of tactile communication. The last form of communication that the fruit flies use during courtship is auditory communication. Once the male makes tactile communication with the female, it vibrates its wing to produce a "courtship song" which tells the female that this male is of her species. After all these forms of communication are used, the male can then attempt to reproduce with the female. More complex species like humans are able to communicate verbally thanks to our complex brain. The Broca's Area of our brain is responsible for language production and comprehension. This was discovered after Paul Pierre Broca had two patients both who had injuries to their inferior frontal gyrus and both had lost the ability to speak. So, if humans have the ability to communicate via language, can our ancestors do the same? While we know that chimpanzees do not speak a verbal language, experiments have been done to see whether or not they had the mental capacity to learn a language. There were many different predictions as to whether or not language was influenced by nature or nurture. B.F. Skinner hypothesized that language is based on nurture and so that if chimpanzees were taught a language then they would be able to speak. Chomsky on the other hand thought language was inborn and that it was due to nature, therefore hypothesizing that the chimps would not have the mental capacity to do so. A family raised a chimpanzee and tried to teach it English and this resulted in the chimp being able to say a limited amount of words. The chimp was however able to communicate many words in sign language. It is suspected that this may be because a chimp does not have vocal chords built for speech. An experiment in Nature found that three ape species had similar assymetrical areas of the brain related to communication as the Broca's Area in humans. They also specualte that this communication related area of the brain has been present for at least 5 million years, suggesting that this area has involved to the complex Broca's Area that humans have, giving us the ability to communicate by speech. Why don't humans have one universal language? I speculate that this is due to the isolated human civilizations that first arose. If more than one civilization developed at a time, each created a different language to communicate. As the civilizations expanded and people began to spread out across the land, they carried their languages with them but they were probably butchered along the way, which may be why we have languages such as English, Spanish, Italian, French, etc. which have some similar vocabulary and latin roots.


  3. The importance of communication seems pretty intuitive. Without being able to communicate threat, sexual maturity or the presence of food, the survival of a species would be greatly hampered. It seems that communication is especially important in highly social species in which social interaction may be significantly important to mate selection, hunting coordination and defense against predators.

    The existence of markedly different languages did not evolve arbitrarily but is rather the result of geographic barriers between populations. Just as Darwin observed that geographically isolated populations of finches would have beaks of different length adapted to the selective pressures of their immediate environment, isolated “populations” of humans developed different forms of spoken and written language. Would it be easier to communicate without linguistic barriers? Yes, but the presence of geographic barriers will inevitably lead to variation in language and culture. Nevertheless, in an increasingly globalized world, the presence of different languages no longer presents a legitimate cause for concern, especially with the standards of education and the use of English as a universal language.

    Of course, there are different types of communication other than the spoken language of humans. communication can be both inter-species and intra-species. Intra-species communication typically involves mate interactions such as the use of chemical signaling (pheromones) to either attract mates or communicate territoriality. Such communication can also be auditory, such as the call songs of birds, or tactile communication and body language that is typical of highly sociable primates. Examples of interspecies communication might be prey species’ use of aposematic coloration to signal unpalatability to predators or the use of aggression in defense against predators.

    sources consulted:
    AP Bio book

  4. Language is the means by which organisms communicate. Language as we know it, English, Spanish French, etc., is a form of communication that is particular to humans. Language first appeared between 30,000 and 100,000 years ago in the species Homo sapiens. There are two theories on how language developed, one proposes that language was a side effect of our increasing brain size; another suggests that it was a direct result of evolution from trying to communicate more easily. Personally I think that the second theory makes more sense.
    The first means of verbal communication would have been a series of sounds, probably grunts or cries. Many animals use sound to communicate and given that these are all “lower” animals than humans, this probably shows that sounds were used first. Grunts may have been attributed to certain things, such as a warning signal for a predatory animal, or perhaps as a sign of approval. Being able to communicate better through grunts or other vocal signals would have been helpful in hunts or in coordinating gathering or in social settings, thus increasing the fitness of the group and helping them pass along their genes. Through extensive use of the vocal cords, the cords would have become strengthened and more capable of producing a wider variety of sounds, thus leading to the development of a spoken language.
    We developed different languages because of lack of communication between groups of people. Without any sort of transportation, there would have been a low chance to have a group encounter another group of people. Since it would make sense to stay in one general location that has plenty of foraging potential and animals to eat, humans simply began settling down and just living there in their own group of people. For example, the romantic languages, which include Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian are all derived from Latin, which developed in the area around the Mediterranean, around where all these countries are located.
    A single unified language would be useful in almost all areas of state relations. It would help unify the world and promote less violence because we become more similar. (Racism is just a manifestation of people’s dislike of differences). English is regarded as the international language of business and is being taught to many students around the globe. Unfortunately, much culture would be lost if everyone spoke a common language. However, there are still here are many tangible benefits to having a unified language, but there are many obstacles in the way.
    One interesting form of communication is through electrical impulses. This is mainly found in aquatic salt water organisms because salt water conducts electricity better than air/ freshwater. While this ability is not highly developed, for sharks and stingrays especially, electrolocation is very helpful when hunting down dinner. The sharks sense the prey’s movements and use that information in the final attack. Electric fish can also use electricity as a communicative device. The fish produces an electric organ discharge , which is broadcast through the surrounding water and received by other fish in the environment. These other fish detect the signals and process various aspects of the signal to determine its significance. These signals can express a fish's species, gender, reproductive intent, social status, and level of aggression.

  5. Since potpie did such a good job describing methods of communication in animals, i'll focus on the evolution of language in humans.
    Language like everything else evolved because of distinct seperations between cultures. Different tribes of people needed a method of communication which could be efficient to them and also easily pronounced with their "native accents". As time passed even these individual languages in the tribes evolved and split into new languages.
    Take Shakespeare for example. He invented thousands of new words and more than 1500 are still used today. The small changes in language like the addition of new words or the changing of pronounciation allow language to "evolve".
    Language also tends to be very sacred in some aspects of a culture. Many of these cultures would not want to get rid of their native language and use a more efficient language such as english. All these aspects contribute to the evolution and creation of multiple languages in our world today.

  6. Language evolved because of the idea of biogeography. We see that we are separated by a barrier such as an ocean that doesn't allow for direct communication with one another. So as species were separated long time ago, we notice that these humans established different languages. We didn't have phone or anything back then, and it was not possible to spread one language over to another part of the continent and make them learn it. So they just established one, and used that language to talk to one another. This explains why we have so many languages. By the time of the invention of the phone, everyone had their own language, so why bother change it. It would be too much time spent, and the question would be which language to choose as the universal language.
    It would be easier to communicate with people if there was just one language, but as I said biogeography helps show how the distribution of a species helps it inherit different adaptations. So by humans living in different areas, there would be a different form in which they communicate to one another because they were isolated from others at the time.
    I have two adaptations. One is the one that Potpie mentioned, and that is aggression. This is one of the most important language that animals have. This is because through natural selection we see that those with favorable traits, and those that were able to survive dominated. So those animals that were able to fight their land were able to survive. Though there is something more important, and that is the aggression for the females. This would help let the female choose who her mate would be, which in turn would help pass down favorable traits to the offspring. This aggressive behavior allows natural selection to occur.
    Another way to communicate to other animals would be through your appearance. Lets take the example of the peacock. With all those feathers, and all its beauty, it is communicating to the females, "pick me.. pick me." It helps demonstrate good traits, and gets the point across that "I have good genes, and we have the best possible chance of creating offspring." So it helps show natural selections, and how females are able to choose mates with the best possible genes.


    Potpie's comment

  7. Language is an extremely adaptive tool. Language- the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas to others- is advantageous because it allows people to "acquire information about the world can aboid havint to duplicate the possibly time-consuming and dangerous trial-and-error process that won that knowledge" (Weiten). Language also helped to build and maintain social coalitions in increasingly larger groups. Thus language has helped us organize and advance civilization to get us to the modern society we are now. To the question of the adaptive value of having different languages compared to all being able to speak the same language, it may have to do with ancient times and separate societies. As language would have been helpful for hunters to coordinate, it would have also helped tribes in fighting against one another. If both tribes spoke the same language then the opposing side would be able to understand all of the other side's plans and tactics. Thus the different languages would actually help the groups to survive in the sense that language would provide privacy.
    Animals also have language. One example other than the intricate dance of the bees is the courtship of the fruit fly. It begins with the "male identifying and orienting toward a female of the same species. When the male sees the female, he relies on visual communication, the flow of information to the visual system...[the male] detects chemicals released into the air by the female" which is chemical communication. Then the male taps the female with a foreleg (tacticle communication)and then extends and "vibrates his wing, producing a specific courtship song" (auditory communication)(Campbell).
    Chimps have also shown remarkable communication abilities. Because of the similarity between humans and chimpanzees, scientists attempted to teach chimps human language. They found that chimps "simply didn't have the appropriate vocal apparatus to acquire human speech" (Weiten). So rather than verbal speech, they taught the chimps American Sign Language and found that the chimps were able to sign roughly 160 words. This shows how the language gap between humans and other animal species is smaller than some people believe.

    Why Evolution is True
    Biology, Campbell
    Psychology Themes and Variations, Weiten

  8. The Greater Spot nosed monkey has recently been found to communicate with mechanisms similar to sentences that humans use. The magic with human sentences is that we use words that are discrete units of information together to imply something much greater. The spot nosed monkeys speak in a language of only two words: "pyow," which "warns against a lurking leopard, and "hack," which "is used when an eagle is hovering nearby." Both sounds are used for these meanings, yet when placed together in the correct order and number, they create a "sentence" with a different meaning entirely. For instance, "three 'pyows' followed up by up to four 'hacks'...serve to elicit group movement" and "pyow-hack" means "something like 'let's go!'" Although very simple, this is the first example of "a syntax-like natural communication system in a non-human spcies." The advantages of communication are obvious. They spread knowledge of important issues such as food location to other members of the species, in order to increase chances of survival and proliferation of the species. One could make the argument that it is the extensive development of human language that brought so much power to our species, because our communication about the environment became so effective.


  9. The reason as to why so many languages came to be is a geographical one. As continents are independently developed, the language evolves from a pidgin language to a creole language. The vocabulary of a creole language consists of cognates from the parent languages, though there are often clear phonetic and semantic shifts (Schiffman). The grammar often has original features but may differ substantially from those of the parent languages. Soon, a new language is evolved from this. Once more countries come in contact with other languages, they will be too attached to their own to simply just change their national language. It could also be that if two countries are kept in close contact, the two languages could merge for sake of ease, and this could give birth to a new intermediate language. Prior to electronics that made communication around the world quite easy, it was mainly through borders and trade routes that languages started to merge (Lawrence Lo.). Otherwise, languages were mostly isolated to evolve on its own. Also, keep in mind that language is constantly changing with new additions in words, grammar rules, and colloquial language.
    In animals, the best known forms of communication involve the display of distinctive body parts, or distinctive bodily movements; often these occur in combination, so a distinctive movement acts to reveal or emphasize a distinctive body part. Other forms of communication include other senses, with another common one being olfactory communication. More examples include hormone chemical, or physical communication. In aquatic life, a rare form of communication is electro communication. Communications between animals are usually differing kinds of social behavior that include agonistic interaction, courtship, territorial signals, food related signals, or alarm calls. (Communication between animals)
    One example of communication is the parent Herring Gull's presentation of its bill to a chick in the nest. Like many gulls, the Herring Gull has a brightly coloured bill, yellow with a red spot on the lower mandible near the tip. When it returns to the nest with food, the parent stands over its chick and taps the bill on the ground in front of it; this elicits a begging response from a hungry chick (pecking at the red spot), which stimulates the parent to regurgitate food in front of it. The complete signal therefore involves a distinctive morphological feature (body part), the red-spotted bill, and a distinctive movement (tapping towards the ground) which makes the red spot highly visible to the chick. (Wiki)

    Human Geo Textbook
    Communication between animals:
    Lawrence Lo.: