The Uniqueness of Man

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 18 14:36:09 UTC 2009

I haven't read the Anderson book either, but I've followed that
literature ever since working with the Lana Project at Yerkes in
Atlanta in the late 70s.  The arena is one with highly mobile goal
posts.  When animals are shown to be capable of some language-like
behavior the definition changes to exclude that or at least make it
insufficient.  What serious researchers in the field are doing,
though, is not attempting to prove that other higher primates are
capable of language but rather investigating the cognitive requisites
for language and the use of such species as behavior models for
research.  Duane Rumbaugh has a couple of very interesting recent
papers that survey the field he's been working in for forty years.
See for example

Emergents and Rational Behaviorism.  Eyes on Psy Chi, Winter 2002.
A Salience Theory of Learning and Behavior: With Perspectives on
Neurobiology and Cognition.  International Journal of Primatology
(0164-0291) 10/01/2007. Vol.28,Iss.5;p.973-996.

Both sides, unfortunately, are prone to overblown arguments.


On Fri, Sep 18, 2009 at 8:15 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Joel S. Berson" <Berson at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      The Uniqueness of Man
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> With the excuse of its relationship to Teenglish, I ask a question
> about _Doctor Dolittle's Delusion: Animals and the Uniqueness of
> Human Language_, by Stephen R. Anderson.
> His book (which I admit I have not read to the end yet; it's been
> recalled by the library) strikes me as an anguished cry for the
> biologically-predetermined uniqueness of humans among all of God's
> creations with respect to language.  (His ilk lost one battle --
> although a fringe is still fighting -- with the recognition of
> evolution, another over using and making tools, and so on.)
> Every chapter ends with the conclusion that, if a particular type of
> communication in the animal just discussed is biologically
> determined, innate, and especially if humans have or do something
> similar, then how can one deny that language in humans is also
> innate.  False logic, I believe.  But also -- If humans are like
> these various animals, then how can Anderson deny that some animals
> might be like us -- such as (other) primates in their ability to
> understand, learn, and use language?
> Set aside the fact that chimpanzees don't have a physical vocal
> apparatus that would permit them to speak English.  Some humans don't
> either, but they can use human language via other modes.
> Joel
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