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Human babies take 1+ years to begin learning how to speak (though sign language can be learned a bit earlier1).

I know that cries, yells, and other non-linguistic sound are a simple form of communication, but they don't actually get across a specific point (e.g., what is causing a cry).

I understand that no other species use language, per se, and that linguistic development is complex and therefore requires time.

However, I'm wondering if other species have similar periods in which the adults "don't understand" the babies/juveniles.

  • In other words, do any other animals have a period of communication development early on in life before which the juvenile's cannot communicate with adults?

Boughman & Moss (2003) mentions the development of call types in some birds based on exposure to parents or certain social groups, but it doesn't quite address how these individuals communicate prior to the development of these calls (if at all). The paper also discusses individualization of sounds and recognizing variations to identify individuals, but again, this doesn't quite capture my question about a period of ontogenetic communication incompatibility.


1. Fitzpatrick, E.M., Thibert, J., Grandpierre, V. and Johnston, J.C., 2014. How HANDy are baby signs? A systematic review of the impact of gestural communication on typically developing, hearing infants under the age of 36 months. First Language 34(6):486-509. pdf

2. Boughman, J.W. and Moss, C.F., 2003. Social sounds: vocal learning and development of mammal and bird calls. In Acoustic communication (pp. 138-224). Springer, New York, NY. pdf

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    $\begingroup$ Plenty of species don't meet their parents. I don't suppose those meet your criteria? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 5:09
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak they do not. I'm interested in the ontogeny and ethology of communication, not its absolute absence $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 16:12
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    $\begingroup$ Problem is, human baby crying still counts as communication. It's a far cry from Shakespeare, but I doubt that even chickens or baby eagles fare any better than just one utterance (no idea how to support that claim with studies though...). And it's not purely a matter of age either - get plopped into a random country in Africa or Asia, and you'll soon learn just how much you can say just by pointing at the right thing and saying "this". $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ @John Dvorak: And similarly, there are multitudes of people with whom I share a common language, but seemingly can't communicate beyond what could (with some effort) be done by pointing & grunting. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ Following up on the comment by @JohnDvorak — there is pretty good evidence that human babies communicate in ways that are much more sophisticated than just screaming until they get what they want. See for example: this review and this article. Based on this (and personal observations that some individuals seem to do a very good job of understanding what babies want) I think the premise that humans have non-communicative juveniles isn't well supported! $\endgroup$
    – tyersome
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 1:23

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