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The human capacity to exchange information and ideas through speech (and recently, writing) is unparalleled in other species. Unlike the closed sign systems of other primates in which sounds are unique and mutually exclusive, human language is open – an infinite number of meanings can be produced by combining a limited number of sounds and words. Human language also has the capacity of displacement, using words to represent things and happenings that are not presently or locally occurring, but reside in the shared imagination of interlocutors.[77] Basic displacement may occur in other species, but is uniquely elaborated in humans, allowing symbols and language to refer to abstract or even purely imaginary states, and underpinning the complex symbolic culture of the species. Humans are the only species able to ask questions. Unlike chimpanzees and bonobos, who are able to answer complex questions but cannot formulate and ask questions themselves, humans ask questions from a very early age.[187] Human language is also unique in being a modality independent sign system, the same meanings can be conveyed through different media, auditively in speech, visually by gestural signs or writing and even through tactile media such as braille. The faculty of language is a defining feature of humanity, and a cultural universal. Language is central to the communication between humans, and to the sense of identity that unites nations, cultures and ethnic groups. The invention of writing systems at least five thousand years ago allowed the preservation of language on material objects, and was a major technological advancement. The science of linguistics describes the structure and function of language and the relationship between languages. There are approximately six thousand different languages currently in use, including sign languages, and many thousands more that are extinct.,1291034.html,1307833.html