Doctor Dolittle's Delusion: Animals and the Uniqueness of Human Language

Doctor Dolittle's Delusion: Animals and the Uniqueness of Human Language

Stephen R. Anderson

Language: English

Pages: 366

ISBN: B01K0Q6ATI

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Can animals be taught a human language and use it to communicate? Or is human language unique to human beings, just as many complex behaviors of other species are uniquely theirs? This engrossing book explores communication and cognition in animals and humans from a linguistic point of view and asserts that animals are not capable of acquiring or using human language.Stephen R. Anderson explains what is meant by communication, the difference between communication and language, and the essential characteristics of language. Next he examines a variety of animal communication systems, including bee dances, frog vocalizations, bird songs, and alarm calls and other vocal, gestural, and olfactory communication among primates. Anderson then compares these to human language, including signed languages used by the deaf. Arguing that attempts to teach human languages or their equivalents to the great apes have not succeeded in demonstrating linguistic abilities in nonhuman species, he concludes that animal communication systems—intriguing and varied though they may be—do not include all the essential properties of human language. Animals can communicate, but they can’t talk.

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fluent . . . in sign language, . . . certainly seem capable of using language to communicate,’’ and so on. The bonobo Kanzi, of whom we will hear more later in this book, ‘‘remembers and describes’’ a spot in the woods. One of the several books covered in this review, the novel Jennie, involves a chimp who is taught sign language, and ‘‘learns to express herself.’’ All of this takes for granted that, with proper training, some nonhuman primates (and perhaps other animals as well) can be provided

Hans’s abilities. The thirteen members were selected so as to ensure that no deception would go undetected. Chosen to cover as many bases as possible, the commission included a circus manager, a teacher and a school administrator, two zoologists, a veterinarian, a physiologist, a psychologist and a politician. In spite of their skepticism, there seemed no sign of signals being passed (intentionally or not) between von Osten and his horse. Although Stumpf later insisted that the commission members

Yugoslavia in 1991–92). Nonetheless, we know there is a difference between language and other forms of communication. For generations, philosophers have agreed that the remarkable feature that gives human language its power and its centrality in our life is the capacity to articulate a range of novel expressions, thoughts, and ideas, bounded only by our imagination. Using our native language, we can produce and understand sentences we have never encountered before, in ways that are appropriate to

possibilities. Early in life, experience provides models (via the behavior of other members of the species) that fall within the range of this system, and the W 146 X 7067 Anderson / DOCTOR DOLITTLE’S DELUSION / sheet 159 of 367 Tseng 2004.5.10 08:38 Birds and Babies Learning to Speak animal develops a pattern of vocalization based both on the specific models and on the properties of the general pattern. Let me call this (true) vocal learning, as opposed to the kinds of social modification

expressive, however. An enormous amount of highly significant information about the identity, fitness, and other characteristics W 186 X 7067 Anderson / DOCTOR DOLITTLE’S DELUSION / sheet 199 of 367 Tseng 2004.5.10 08:38 What Primates Have to Say for Themselves of individuals undoubtedly is transmitted in this way to those equipped to understand it. For regulating the social organization of groups of animals who may not be in constant touch by sight or by sound, scent signals can be quite

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