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The American linguist Charles Hockett theorized that there are sixteen features of human language that distinguished human communication from that of animals. The features mentioned below have so far been found in all spoken human languages and at least one is missing from all other animal communication systems.Humans are able to distinguish real words from fake words based on the phonological order of the word itself.Several investigators have pointed out that some marine mammals appear to have an extraordinary capacity to alter both the contextual and structural features of their vocalizations as a result of experience.Janik and Slater (2000) have stated that learning can modify the emission of vocalizations in one of two ways: (1) by influencing the context in which a particular signal is used and/or (2) by altering the acoustic structure of the call itself.For example, if one chimpanzee sees a snake, he makes a low, rumbling noise, signaling for all the other chimps to climb into nearby trees.In this case, the chimpanzees' communication does not indicate displacement, as it is entirely contained to an observable event.

The effects of learning on auditory signaling in these animals is of special interest.

Arbitrariness has been noted in meerkat calls; bee dances demonstrate elements of spatial displacement; and cultural transmission has possibly occurred between the celebrated bonobos Kanzi and Panbanisha.