Origins of naming our offspring.
May 21, 2005 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to find articles online which delve into the origins of naming human offspring and whether or not other species have audible monickers as well.

A drinking buddy and I have begun a discussion on this topic, and we are trying to find some resources relating to it. Googling has yielded few results, thusfar, excepting one article which mentions naming en passant as a possible result of early mothers using sounds to calm their children while out foraging for food. I would like to find something more in depth.
posted by The Great Big Mulp to Science & Nature (4 answers total)
It's pretty common knowledge that in various herding groups -- penguins, cows, etc -- mothers and babies identify each other via voice. I don't know if that's really "naming" per se, except that I can't see how it isn't "naming," either.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:06 PM on May 21, 2005

humans communicate about specific people to other people. this requires references (like names or pointing). i think this would have happened relatively late (after a basic language evolved) in humans' evolution of culture and cognition. i wouldn't be surprised if other mammals (chimps, dolphins, maybe even elephants) did this but whether or not there is self-awareness of the process is another question.
posted by foraneagle2 at 2:36 PM on May 21, 2005

whether or not there is self-awareness of the process is another question

Um, foraneagle2, "whether or not there is self-awareness of the process" is still something of an open question in humans.

But to address the question, we know many animal groups (vervets, for instance) have distinct calls to identify different kinds of predators. It's not clear to me why anyone would make the assumption that a similar system of distinguishing *wouldn't* exist within the troop itself, where the members are in much more constant daily communication with one another.

In fact, I'd say it's a pretty dumb assumption, and would place the burden of proof on someone who claimed it was true.
posted by mediareport at 5:03 PM on May 21, 2005

Best answer: Ah, here we go: Individual Recognition in Bottlenose Dolphins

Each animal develops an individually distinctive signature whistle in the first few months of its life. Signature whistle development is strongly influenced by learning. Scientists think that signature whistles are used in individual recognition, which is supported by the fact that they can primarily be heard if individuals cannot see each other. Such individually distinctive, learned signals for individual recognition have so far only been found in humans. [*] The occurrence of such referential labels is thought to be a significant step in the evolution of human language.

In fact, dolphins might use copying of signature whistles to address specific individuals. Captive dolphins can use learned sounds to label objects and can be trained to report on whether objects are present or absent by using these labels. Furthermore, in the wild dolphins copy each other’s signature whistle and engage in matching whistle interactions. However, even though the use of signature whistles as individual labels is an interesting possibility, several questions remain before we can conclude that these whistles are functionally equivalent to vocal labels. For example, do dolphins really need such individual labels or can they recognize each other by voice? Over what distances or in what kind of noise does this voice recognition fail and are these conditions in which signature whistles are used? Do dolphins really associate a particular signature whistle with its “owner”? And does a dolphin show a selective response if it hears its own signature whistle?

* Not surprising, given how little we understand of other species' communication. And I'm not so sure I buy the huge difference between "vocal labels" and "recognizing each other by voice." Anyway, I'm guessing Janik's research is close to what you're looking for, The Great Big Mulp.
posted by mediareport at 5:56 PM on May 21, 2005

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