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Trends Cogn Sci. 1998 Jan 1;2(1):31-7.

`Babbling' and social context in infant monkeys: parallels to human infants.

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Departments of Psychology and Zoology, Univeristy of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Although only humans use spoken language, the vocal communication of many animals shares some features with language. Within the context of their family, normal children and young non-human primates develop proficiency in the nuances of their species-specific vocal communication system. Engaging in speech-like phonetic activity, or babbling, occurs in all normal children regardless of their native language. Similar periods of vocal development have not been described previously for non-human primates. However, in the pygmy marmoset, a South American monkey, we found that the primary vocal behavior of infants parallels many characteristics of human infant babbling. These analogous features include universality, repetition, use of a subset of the adult vocal repertoire, recognizably adult-like vocal structure and lack of a clear vocal referent. Also, like human infants, young marmosets develop in a closely knit family unit that includes both parents and often older siblings. In this context, the babbling-like behavior of the marmoset infant stimulates interaction with caregivers, thereby serving a key role in the infant's own development. These developmental and social processes indicate that the study of vocal development in non-human primate species can provide insights into the function of babbling in humans.


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