Mirror neurons, birdsong, and human language: a hypothesis

Florence Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The mirror system hypothesis and investigations of birdsong are reviewed in relation to the significance for the development of human symbolic and language capacity, in terms of three fundamental forms of cognitive reference: iconic, indexical, and symbolic. Mirror systems are initially iconic but can progress to indexical reference when produced without the need for concurrent stimuli. Developmental stages in birdsong are also explored with reference to juvenile subsong vs complex stereotyped adult syllables, as an analogy with human language development. While birdsong remains at an indexical reference stage, human language benefits from the capacity for symbolic reference. During a pre-linguistic " babbling" stage, recognition of native phonemic categories is established, allowing further development of subsequent prefrontal and linguistic circuits for sequential language capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number78
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Birdsong
  • Language
  • Mirror neurons
  • Symbolic reference


Dive into the research topics of 'Mirror neurons, birdsong, and human language: a hypothesis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this