bird song/conversation analysis

A. Katz amnfn at
Fri Jun 18 22:07:06 UTC 2010


We may not want to start an ape language experiment with a definition for 
language, as clearly language can be used without defining it. And I think 
that we are all pretty good at recognizing what it is, intutitively. But 
in order to convince others, you need to find out what their definition 
is and whether they consistently apply it.

I have a chimp who spells out sentences of his own invention. Of course it 
matters to me if someone comes back and says "spelling isn't language." At 
that point, I turn around and ask them for their definition of language!

    --Aya Katz

On Fri, 18 Jun 2010, Sherman Wilcox wrote:

> On Jun 18, 2010, at 3:22 PM, A. Katz wrote:
>> I think equating "language" with "human language" makes the question meaningless. If a language is defined as something spoken by humans, then clearly anything used by non-humans is not a language, by definition. That kind of answer is not very enlightening.
> I guess this was directed to me. I'm not saying it's very enlightening. I don't think it is. I'm also not saying that I say this. I'm saying many of our colleagues do (I'm not thinking of anyone on this list).
> I just find the whole enterprise of starting with a definition to be the wrong way to approach the question. It reminds me again of my visit with Allen Gardner in Reno. He told a story about presenting some of the Washoe data early on at a psychology conference. A young professor stood up and asked, "What's your definition of language?" Allen replied, "We don't have one." The guy shot back, "Then why should I pay any attention to you?" [Allen says he's convinced that if he'd started with some definition of language -- which at the time probably wouldn't even have included ASL -- Project Washoe would never even have gotten started.]
> A really insightful article on this topic is by Matt Cartmill (1990), Human uniqueness and theoretical content in paleoanthropology. International Journal of Primatology, 11(3), 173–192.
> Best,
> -- 
> Sherman

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