primate communication?

Celso Alvarez Cáccamo lxalvarz at
Fri Nov 8 13:20:42 UTC 2002

Primate "conversation" sounds more acceptable to me, particularly in
quotation marks when applied to primates.  But "discourse" implies
agency.  I don't know what's wrong with "gibbon communication" or
"communication among gibbons".

As for "gender" (as Valentina and others note), it's interesting (to me)
its usage went unnoticed to me at first: my own bias -- not to focus on
gender and sex, but on the almighty, de-gendered "Discourse".

I've just read an interesting article in _Mundo Científico_ (Spanish
version of _La Recherche_), by Wiktor Stoczkowski, professor in the École
Normale des Hautes Études Sociales, Paris: "Los científicos ante el
racismo".  The article deals with the scientific bases (or lack thereof)
for both the ideology of exclusion and the ideology of inclusion. The
ideology of exclusion (racism) focuses on differences among 'races'. The
ideology of inclusion (overextended to include moral statute to the great
apes) focuses on similarities among human groups, and between humans and
other species. Regarding The Great Ape Project, the author says (my bad

"Migitation of difference is again admitted as a sine qua non condition for
equality and respect [for great apes]. This opinion triggered press
campaigns designed to convince the public that there are only "differences
in degree, not in kind" between humans and apes (...). Disregarding
distances, the logic of this thesis resembles the pressupositions of
anti-racists arguments in the 1950's. The equality of rights and the right
to due respect are presented as proportional to similarities with those to
whom we grant all rights without any hesitation, that is, ourselves".

So, I say: to me cross-species comparisons are fine, as long as the main
goal is to understand the nature of human communication abilities, not to
strike agency and ideology from discourse by overextending the notion and
blurring the differences between species.

There is, of course, the strictly sequential sense of "discourse" as a set
of ordered moves.  But sequential ordering involves reflexivity and
planning, the renewal of context, alignments and realignments, etc.


Celso Alvarez Cáccamo
lxalvarz at
Assembleia da Língua:

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