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Prelinguistic infants, but not chimpanzees, communicate about absent entities

Liszkowski, U., Schäfer, M., Carpenter, M., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Prelinguistic infants, but not chimpanzees, communicate about absent entities. Psychological Science, 20, 654-660.
One of the defining features of human language is displacement, the ability to make reference to absent entities. Here we show that prelinguistic, 12-month-old infants already can use a nonverbal pointing gesture to make reference to absent entities. We also show that chimpanzees—who can point for things they want humans to give them—do not point to refer to absent entities in the same way. These results demonstrate that the ability to communicate about absent but mutually known entities depends not on language, but rather on deeper social-cognitive skills that make acts of linguistic reference possible in the first place. These nonlinguistic skills for displaced reference emerged apparently only after humans' divergence from great apes some 6 million years ago.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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