Communication vs Language
Communication in vervet monkeys
Alarm calls
Communication vs Language
Communication: An intended transfer of information from one organism to another.
• Whatever language is it is at least a form of communication.
• Non linguistic communication can be described as fitting into two basic
1. Innate transmissions & meanings
• Pheromones vervet alarm calls
2. Associative (S-R) transmissions & meanings
• “polly want a cracker” (make this set of sounds get reward).
Language: a system of communication or reasoning using representation along with
metaphor and some manner of logical grammar, all of which presuppose a historical
and at least temporarily transcendent standard or truth from which it is derived.
Representation: an icon or abstraction that holds meaning (e.g. words or
Metaphor: a comparison made between two seemingly unrelated subjects
(e.g. an analogy)
logical grammar: a set of rules by which words or symbols are organized to
depict a specific communication or meaning from the transmitter to the
temporarily transcendent standard: the idea that a novel idea can be
communicated as an emergent function of the specific set of words or
symbols within a specific environmental/cultural context. That is language
has an open architecture
Are we alone? Studies of language ability in non human primates
"For it is a very remarkable thing that there are no men, not even the
insane, so dull and stupid that they cannot put words together in a manner
to convey their thoughts. On the contrary, there is no other animal however
perfect and fortunately situated it may be, that can do the same… even
those men born deaf and dumb, lacking the organs which others make use
of in speaking, and at least as badly off as the animals in this respect,
usually invent for themselves some signs by which they make themselves
understood" (Philosopher Descartes 1637).
Garner 1896
•Was convinced apes possess some language
•Made the first attempt to teach a chimp to speak
•The chimp learned to speak the word “fue”
Witmer 1909
•Mama, papa, cup, the sounds “pa” & “the”
Other failed attempts Kellogg’s (1933); Hayes’s (1951).
The problem: non human apes can not speak because they do not possess the
proper bio-mechanical machinery to produce speech.
Are we alone? Studies of language ability in non human primates
Robert Yerkes (1925)
Suggested that apes “have plenty to talk about, but no gift for the use of
sounds…. Perhaps they can be taught to use their fingers, somewhat as a
deaf or dumb person”
The Gardner's (1971)
•Trained Washoe some 132 ASL hand signs over the
course of 4 years.
•Assessment based on spontaneous production of
each sign daily of a 15 consecutive day period.
•Claimed that she produced semantically appropriate
combinations of signs
•“You me hide.”
•“You no go out there hurry.”
•“Water bird”
•Subsequent to the Washoe experiments three others
have successfully trained ASL
•Fouts (more chimps)
•Patterson (Koko)
•Terrace (Nim Chimpsky)
Nim chimpsky: 21 November 1973 - 10 March 2000
300 signs, and made 2-, 3-, and 4-sign
Differences between human child and chimp
linguistic behavior:
•Nim’s semantic complexity not correlated with
sentence length.
•Nim’s utterances were infested with “wild card”
repetitions (e.g. “give orange me give eat orange
me eat orange give me eat orange give me you”)
•Nim could not take turns speaking
•Meta analysis of ape signing reveals that ~90% of all signs made by chimps had
been previously made by a trainer.
Terrace concluded that:
•No grammatical competence: apes use “canned” sentence structure that
was provided by trainers.
•No representational competence: apes are largely imitating their trainers
based on S-R reward structures
Symbolic language experiments
Premack (Sarah) and the Rumbaugh’s (Kanzi)
•Used chips of varying size shape and color
•Results largely could not address the issues of semantic
complexity or representation
Rumbaugh: The Yerkish language
Symbolic language experiments
Evidence of representational competence

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