Sheri Wells-Jensen swellsj at
Thu Oct 28 20:10:16 UTC 2010

It's worth pointing out, I think, that the goal of the Alex studies and the ongoing studies of other parrots has been the investigation of parrot cognition not language  acquisition.  Dr. Pepperberg states quite clearly that Alex's utterances are meant as only a vehicle for him to demonstrate his various (impressive) abilities.

He does not seem to have acquired much syntax at all, but it's fascinating to note  the other cognitive abilities he clearly has, demonstrated by the problems he can solve.
It would be interesting to construct a list of the cognitive abilities necessary to manipulate a grammar accurately and compare those to what the parrots can do albeit in a nonlinguistic context.

For what it's worth, there is quite a bit of phonetic detail in The Alex Studies if you want to see spectrograms and such of parrot speech.


Sheri Wells-Jensen

-----Original Message-----
From: funknet-bounces at [mailto:funknet-bounces at] On Behalf Of Keith Johnson
Sent: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:38 PM
To: A.Katz
Cc: funknet at
Subject: Re: [FUNKNET] Chomsky

Aya, discussing the problem of demonstrating that birds can talk, says:

"If humans had to go through this to prove their children can really  
talk, they wouldn't fare much better."

I think that this is a false statement, as evidenced by the years of  
research reported in journals like the "Journal of Child Language".  
Children are studied in controlled settings, and behave differently  
than nonhuman creatures do. My point is that the linguistic  
accomplishments of nonhuman species are quite different from those of  
humans.  This seems to be an observation that we should be able to  

Barbara King argues that there are more interesting questions that  
whether nonhuman creatures have "language" or not.  But, I would say  
that if we are seeking to understand the organic basis of this human  
capacity we call language, then it is crucial that we understand  
whether the capacity for language is shared across species.

Keith Johnson
Professor of Linguistics
University of California
keithjohnson at

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