... human language is a grafting of two communication forms found elsewhere in the animal kingdom: first, the elaborate songs of birds, and second, the more utilitarian, information-bearing types of expression seen in a diversity of other animals.
The idea builds upon Miyagawa's conclusion, detailed in his previous work, that there are two "layers" in all human languages: an "expression" layer, which involves the changeable organization of sentences, and a "lexical" layer, which relates to the core content of a sentence. His conclusion is based on earlier work by linguists including Noam Chomsky, Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser.
Based on an analysis of animal communication, and using Miyagawa's framework, the authors say that birdsong closely resembles the expression layer of human sentences -- whereas the communicative waggles of bees, or the short, audible messages of primates, are more like the lexical layer. At some point, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, humans may have merged these two types of expression into a uniquely sophisticated form of language.
To consider the difference between the expression layer and the lexical layer, take a simple sentence: "Todd saw a condor." We can easily create variations of this, such as, "When did Todd see a condor?" This rearranging of elements takes place in the expression layer and allows us to add complexity and ask questions. But the lexical layer remains the same, since it involves the same core elements: the subject, "Todd," the verb, "to see," and the object, "condor."
Birdsong lacks a lexical structure. Instead, birds sing learned melodies with what Berwick calls a "holistic" structure; the entire song has one meaning,... [emphasis mine]