6
   

The Myth of Animal Language (i.e. Chimps don't speak sign language)

 
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 03:38 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown p wrote:
You have two things, an animal that desperately wants treats and affection-- and a human who desperately wants to converse with an animal. The human an the animal are going to affect each others behavior.

First the human starts making hand signs. The animal starts mimicking the hand signs. Each time the animal makes hand signs, the human gets all excited and give the animal treats. Of course the reaction from the human makes the animal do more hand signs.

Every word of these two paragraphs remains true when you replace replace "animal" with "toddler" and "human" with "mother". Have you just debunked that mothers can teach their toddlers how to speak?

ebrown p wrote:
The vast majority of linguists reject the idea of animal language.

That's a bold claim to take on faith from a non-linguist. I know Chomsky agrees with you, but what evidence do you have that the vast majority of linguists agrees with Chomsky? Can you cite any survey of linguists or something of that nature.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 03:47 pm
@GoshisDead,
Thanks, GoshisDead, for your link to a linguistic definition of language. (And sorry for missing the link when you first posted it.) That looks quite compatible, if somewhat more precise, than the tests I was suggesting based on the dictionary.
0 Replies
 
engineer
 
  5  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 03:49 pm
@ebrown p,
True, it is a sad story, but those who were there claimed she used language and was able to extrapolate the words she knew to generate new terms and express independent thoughts. You can dismiss that saying they were just seeing what they wanted to see, but that means we are at an impasse since you can say the same to any "evidence" presented. Kind of like saying you don't believe Obama was born in Hawaii because any birth certificate presented could have been forged.
ebrown p
 
  0  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:16 pm
Quote:

Every word of these two paragraphs remains true when you replace replace "animal" with "toddler" and "human" with "mother". Have you just debunked that mothers can teach their toddlers how to speak?


There is a big, scientifically testable, difference between human toddler, and non-human animals.

It is pretty easy to show that toddlers understand the meaning of words at an early age. Very quickly they use words to express new ideas, and they can understand sentences that they have never heard before based on their understanding of the words. Toddlers will show language skills consistently... not over thousands of combinations (poured over by researchers to find meaning in any of them... toddler will quickly show understanding in every utterance.

The important part... this ability in human toddlers is science... it is reproducible and measurable even when tested by independent researchers. This is not true in any of the claims of animal language.

The many claims that animals are able to do these things... putting words together to make new meaning, or understanding sentences they have never encountered are anecdotal. If an animal could consistently put words together to express new meaning (rather then being selected out of many combinations of symbols, or selected by human feedback to get a desired reaction from humans), then it would be something.

That humans (including toddlers) use language is scientifically testable and confirmed. Claims that animals use language has never met scientific muster from independent researchers.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:21 pm
@engineer,
Quote:
True, it is a sad story, but those who were there claimed she used language and was able to extrapolate the words she knew to generate new terms and express independent thoughts. You can dismiss that saying they were just seeing what they wanted to see, but that means we are at an impasse since you can say the same to any "evidence" presented. Kind of like saying you don't believe Obama was born in Hawaii because any birth certificate presented could have been forged.


My response to your comment is that same as my response to Thomas. This is a scientific question that deserves scientific evidence. The claims that animals use language have failed to be shown under independent scientific study. Claims made about the language ability of human toddlers have been shown with independent scientific study.

Animal language is not like Obama's birth certificate (where there is plenty of evidence that people refuse to accept).

Animal language is more like ESP... there is no real evidence but it is an idea that some people find so appealing that they choose to accept any anecdote as support. They simply want to believe it is true even though most experts say it isn't possible.
engineer
 
  2  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:26 pm
@ebrown p,
I can understand the claim that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, but those who worked with Lucy claim that proof. I wasn't there and Lucy is dead so no further proof will be forthcoming, but dismissing their accounts by hand waving doesn't cut it. A better refutation would be to say that the following documentation is required and show how in this case it falls short.
sozobe
 
  2  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:26 pm
@ebrown p,
No, it's not so settled as that (see my Cecil Adams quote).

It depends a great deal on what sort of "science" we're relying on, for example. Do linguistic scientists automatically supersede natural scientists?
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:30 pm
@ebrown p,
ebrown wrote:
The important part... this ability in human toddlers is science... it is reproducible and measurable even when tested by independent researchers. This is not true in any of the claims of animal language.

So you say, and Noam Chomsky says so, too. But you continue to provide no evidence for your bold assertion that the vast majority of linguists agrees with you on this point.
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:38 pm
@engineer,
Engineer,

Accounts of people who worked with Lucy are anecdotal (in the strict definition of the word). There is a perfectly good explanation about why the people working with Lucy would see meaning in Lucy's behaviors that Lucy didn't intend.

Everyone involved in the Lucy experiment understood the goal of the whole exercise was to prove that Lucy could act like a human. Everyone involved was looking for human meaning in each of this poor animal's behaviors. If I remember the story from This American Life correctly (I did find it quite fascinating) there was disagreement; there were people who worked with Lucy didn't think she had any language ability.

As I said, language ability is scientifically testable. We do it with toddlers... and toddlers consistently show measurable language ability to independent researchers.

No animal has ever passed this test.

0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 04:55 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
So you say, and Noam Chomsky says so, too. But you continue to provide no evidence for your bold assertion that the vast majority of linguists agrees with you on this point.


OK, I concede the point that I may have overstated this.

My understanding is from the PhD level linguists that I have worked with, who I trust. I am familiar with Steven Pinker as well... but I can't claim to have done any broad survey on the topic.

However, my impression from my personal friends, and the reading on the subject I have done (both of which may be biased), is that animal language pretty much rejected in the linguistic community. Is there any linguist here to contradict my impression?

It is a valid point that there is no independent scientific research to back up these claims in animals-- while there is plenty of scientific evidence to back up claims in human toddlers.

0 Replies
 
GoshisDead
 
  3  
Reply Fri 2 Jul, 2010 06:21 pm
An interesting read, of a leading linguist that leans more towards the animal language camp is Derrik Bickerton's Language and Species
0 Replies
 
JTT
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2010 01:24 pm
@Thomas,
Quote:
... by what definition of the word "language" are they not using it? It occurrs to me that "language" is one of those equivocal words that make people think they're talking about the same thing when in fact they're not.


You're right on this, Thomas.
0 Replies
 
ebrown p
 
  2  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2010 02:18 pm
I am a bit flattered that someone is taking the time to thumb down each one of my posts on this thread (since I started the thread, it seems it would have been easier had they just thumbed down the whole thing at once and been down with this).

Anonymous thumbing is an example of communication that is not language.

JTT
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2010 02:29 pm
@ebrown p,
Quote:
Anonymous thumbing is an example of communication that is not language.


Oh, it's language, Mr Brown, but it is one of the cheapest, most chickenshit forms of language that one could ever imagine.
0 Replies
 
 

Related Topics

Let pupils abandon spelling rules, says academic - Discussion by Robert Gentel
Morphology ; Words Analysis. - Question by Wannaris
Language shift? - Question by white rose
Linguistics - Question by Joystar77
What words mean - Discussion by Cyracuz
Humour of language - Discussion by xris
constative vs. performative - Question by iclearwater
 
Copyright © 2019 MadLab, LLC :: Terms of Service :: Privacy Policy :: Page generated in 0.03 seconds on 08/17/2019 at 11:42:39