This tree may not be a tree but rather an ambitious shrub. And yet…
I ran across these fascinating videos and blog-entries about a linguist / speech pathologist who is training her dog to use “word buttons.” The dog seems to carry on spontaneous conversations with her owners. She pushes the button “outside” the owner says “not now.” She tries again. The owner says “I’m sorry.” And then the dog pushes the button “play.” The owner says “OK. Let’s play.” This seems very close to toddler-level language use.
Here is the link.
As a linguist, I am slightly skeptical that this can be called “language” in any strict sense. But I have also always thought that Chomsky (et al.) and his notion of a specific “language faculty” in the human brain wasn’t necessary. I have long had an intuition that language is just an “emergent property” of the complex neural networks evolution created for the purpose of “being a mammal.” As such, human language is not qualitatively distinct from the language-like behavior of higher mammals. Rather, it is simply a massive scaling-up. This type of animal behavior feels like a confirmation of that intuition.