Characteristics of language-
- These become important because we use them to evaluate communication in other living species.
1. Semanticity- refers to the fact that languages fundamental purpose is to convey meaning, so meaning becomes the most important driving principal behind comprehending language.
a. Language allows violations of rules but it does have to convey meaning.
b. Most of the time, we ignore the violations
c. Semantics overrides syntax.
2. Generativity- AKA productivity- from finite set of fundamental elements, language is able to create an almost infinite amount of meaning.
- Just about everyday, just about everyone creates a sentence that has never been uttered before, in that particular order.
- Language is constantly evolving and changing. Some words did not exist before.
o Ex. “My hard drive just crashed!” was not ever said 100 year ago.
3. Arbitrariness- most basic elements of language (phonemes) are entirely arbitrary. They carry no meaning in and of themselves. They only get their meaning based on the context in which they are used.
a. If /b/ means fear, then all words with /b/ has to have something to do with fear. This isn’t true because the meaning comes from the combination.
4. Displacement- languages ability to communicate about things that aren’t in the here and now.
a. Temporally (time) and spatially (place far away) displaced can still be discussed
5. Generational transmission- one generation passes onto the next
a. Babies are born with innate capacity to acquire language but the specific land is passed along from family.
Do they have language?
1950-1960’s excitement over teaching non-human animals language.
Most studies were done with apes/chimpanzees
- Chimps are closely related to humans
- Big brains
- Live in complex social groups
Cross Fostering- taking baby chimp, raising it in households of experimenters along with other children
- Maybe they don’t acquire language because they aren’t immersed in human language like babies.
- Most well known- Hayes family- chimp named Vicki
o Treat Vicki the same as their baby
o Absolute Disaster- 4-5 years later, Vicki produced only about 4-5 words.
o Chimps just can’t talk. Vocal apparatus is different from humans so they physically cannot speak.
o In wild, 30-35 sounds, but they can acquire a language, so scientist try sign language.
- Gardners- sign language study with Washoe.
o Raised with infant child- Gardners became fluent in sign language
o Immerse Washoe in signing
o Training regime? work with him during the day
o Turned out to be much more successful.
o Washoe- 100-150 signs. He showed evidence of generativity. He made combinations of signs not previously taught (sign “water” and “bird”, handlers think he is signing “duck”)
o Are subjects demonstrating true knowledge or result of experimenter’s imagination? The bonds that are created between scientists and subjects taint the results.
Herb Terrace- argued that cross fostering studies are inherently unreliable because we can never be sure that experimenters are not exaggerating performance of subject.
Nim Chimpsky- very different from cross fostering because he was at
a facility not a house. Caretakers were different than those teaching language
and language teachers did not administer tests. Created more control!
Result: nothing that Nim does can’t be explained by simple stimulus response behaviorist actions.
Mid 1980’s, Kanzi Project- Sue Savage Rumbaugh
This is different because:
1. Kanzi is different kind of Ape- Bonobo, not chimp
2. Bonobo’s social hierarchy is more fluent and flexible than chimp (male chimps are more rigid/aggressive, might make them less receptive to language; Bonobo’s are less rigid/aggressive, natural inclination to social behaviors and language)
3. Kanzi was not the direct subject at first- Matata (his mother) didn’t pick up language but her son was picking it up spontaneously. Let Kanzi hang around without ever having formal training. He learned the lexigram system not English (keyboard based language that uses symbols) HIGHLY EFFECTIVE!
a. 100’s of vocabulary in lexigram system
b. Has grasp of syntax and understanding
c. Has demonstrated displacement (communicate about things not in here and now)
d. Guided blindfolded subject around his enclosure which means he is able to take other person’s perspective into consideration
e. He carries his keyboard around and taps random thoughts
1. Create complex sentences although he can understand them
2. He only produces simple sentences
3. Has never talked about abstract objects
4. All of his language is utilitarian in nature (he can make requests or give commands)
5. Never went through vocabulary explosion
In the last test that Kanzi took, he tested quite favorably to a 2-year-old child.
There is only one other creature that has the quality of displacement:
Honey bees. They communicate information about food through the use if
an intricate dance that signals both direction and distance.