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#168490 - 05/30/07 06:08 PM animal language
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
Shirley, this must have been addressed. Would someone kindly advise me where I can find a thorough, conclusive discussion on the subject of the word "Language" -- in particular "human language" vs. "animal language." I know what people are saying -- opinions rather than formal explanations. Or does this wax too 'philosophical'? What is: (the referent for) "language," precisely, in unambiguous, nonjudgmental objective (!) terms that average people will accept?

θank you.

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#168494 - 05/30/07 07:50 PM Re: animal language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
Zed Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 08/27/02
Posts: 2154
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
Originally Posted By: Nanu Nanu
unambiguous, nonjudgmental objective (!) terms that average people will accept?


Ain't no sech ting

PS Welcome even though someone from the ministry of truth should know better than to look for something unambiguous and objective.
or was that judgemental?


Edited by Zed (05/30/07 07:52 PM)

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#168503 - 05/31/07 11:59 AM Re: animal language [Re: Zed]
Maven Offline
member

Registered: 04/27/07
Posts: 120
Loc: California
Are you asking what defines language as used by humans rather than language as used by animals? Presuming there to be a difference?
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#168511 - 05/31/07 05:24 PM Re: animal language [Re: Maven]
olly Offline
old hand

Registered: 12/18/06
Posts: 956
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
Wikipedia have an interesting article on language and it's subsets.

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#168580 - 06/07/07 09:48 PM Re: animal language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
I have a grasp of what defines human language. I was looking for a treatment of the differences between that (language proper) and animal communication. Or, the best, most complete, most exact definition offered by and accepted by linguists, philologists, and language lovers.

The best I've found so far is by someone who actually "worked with" animals to determine their linguistic ability (inseparable from mental ability): “The Trouble with Ape-Language Studies”, by H. S. Terrace, in Psychology Today, November 1979. (He also wrote How Nim Chimpsky Changed My Mind, which I have not read.) I also found an informal discussion of the subject at http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=33598.80, which held a few noteworthy observations.

Some of the argument rests on the definition of "language." Loosely stated, language is communication. In that sense, the sun "speaks" to the earth. But there must be a technical definition also, for linguists’ sake, or else a different set of words such as "langue" and "parole". But that gets even more complicated. Linguists have offered definitions of human language. I can’t figure out why there is still uncertainty over the distinction between human language and animal communication.

So I look at it "backwards." Instead of trying to figure what people mean by "language," I’ll ask what is it that humans do when they "communicate" with one another. Then, do those activities or relationships appear also among animals when they communicate with each other? (They don't.)

"Unless one knows what one is looking for, there is nothing to find, and such knowing is not a result of objective observation." Ian Robinson.

Normal human communication consists of a set of sounds which speakers produce linearly to form syllables and morphemes (a sound signifying something meaningful) which combine to form words. Words represent concrete subjects and abstract concepts, activities, and relationships. These words are placed in various order, according to the language spoken, to form sentences.

Humans create sentences, including new ones they have never heard, to describe people, places, and things, to report on and evaluate past actions, to plan for the future, to convey thoughts, hopes, desires, to inform others of the status of relationships, to address problems and consider solutions. Humans also put words together in ways that are artistic -- intelligible songs and emotionally moving poetry. Humans also use language to make up stories and to stage plays. Humans use language to deal with cause-effect relationships. These are not what humans do independently of language; these are why language exists and how language is used.

Obviously, no animals creatively, intuitively, voluntarily combine sounds in new ways to create new words, such as “eclipse” or “onomatopoeia” or “infinity”. I know this the same way that I know there is no word in any human language for “the core of Betelgeuse”. We don’t need such a word, and the animals don’t need such words. The difference is, we can create such a word if (when) we wish. If communication is restricted to personal emotional and physical states, that communication is less than even a “primitive” language, it is no language at all. It is merely instinctive grunting (or clicking in the case of dolphins).

Nor do animals combine words to create sentences that convey new information, such as “I’ve never climbed a mountain before. Do you want to climb a mountain with me?” or, “There’s some food on your lip. Want me to lick it off for you?”

If animals had language it has been argued that it would be “primitive.” That is an overstatement. No animal can produce the rich (yes, I said rich, knowing whereof I speak) set of sounds that the human vocal organs can and do produce. If we count animals’ grunts, groans, whistles, and clicks, the humans are still ahead, because we have all those mumbles, moans, breaks and stops also, plus speech sounds in addition, which are multipled by categories of voiceless, voiced, breathy, creak, nasal, tone, length, palatalization, labialization, and others, and we combine them in new ways and with new meanings.

The wikipedia article is a sin of sloppiness and confusion (June 2007). Sorry. The writers are addressing “communication,” not true language. Their self-contradictions increase the confusion. A redeeming statement therein is “Linguists do not consider these to be language; they may better be described as animal communication, because they are fundamentally different in their underlying principles from true language, which has only been found in humans.”

I am disappointed to read in Wikipedia’s weak article that “In several publicised instances, non-human animals have been taught to understand certain features of human language. For example, chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught hand signs based on American Sign Language; however, they have never been successfully taught its grammar.” In other words, that can't 'sign' a single sentence! That is because they lack language ability, do not know what true language is, have nothing significant to say, and can only mimic, which is what they have been trained to do.

One would be hard pressed to categorize “hand signs” as a “feature of human language.” Sign language is a product of human ingenuity and creativity, a paralanguage to substitute for real language, but it is not an inherent "feature" of language proper. Genuine features of language include phonology, morphology, semantics, and syntax. Animal communication lacks these features.

(With thanks to Drs. Ohala and Ohala)

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#168585 - 06/08/07 12:14 AM Re: animal language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
olly Offline
old hand

Registered: 12/18/06
Posts: 956
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
I must admit Mork that your piece was a more invigorating read than the wikipedia article. Thanks for the info.

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#168592 - 06/08/07 09:56 AM Re: animal language [Re: olly]
AnnaStrophic Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 03/15/00
Posts: 6511
Loc: lower upstate New York
Nanu2

You might be interested in checking out Language Log at http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/

You'll find all kinds of article there. The only danger is getting lost and never emerging again!

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#168605 - 06/08/07 03:13 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
Aramis Offline
addict

Registered: 05/17/05
Posts: 456
Loc: SE US
As one owned by a talking feline, the immediate impression is that much of that smacks of elitism. It is doubtful Kitty would agree with it; clearly he knows what he is saying even if biped listeners do not have the requisite knowledge to interpret his language.
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#168634 - 06/11/07 03:51 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Aramis]
Maven Offline
member

Registered: 04/27/07
Posts: 120
Loc: California
I'm not sure who you're trying to convince...But you lack the supporting evidence to convince me. elitism, indeed. To imply that sign language is not a true language indicates only your own ignorance. And yes, I know from whence I speak on that particular topic.


Edited by Maven (06/11/07 06:42 PM)
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#168636 - 06/11/07 03:57 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Maven]
of troy Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 10/17/00
Posts: 5400
Loc: rego park
sign language is language.
it has grammer, and nuance.
there are more than one set of sign languages, and some are less well developed than ASL (which as i recall is based on French SL.)
one can make puns, and idiom, there is slang.. ASL has every feature of language.

some south american SL are more like pidgeons, but pidgeons are languages too!
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#168793 - 06/20/07 11:36 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Maven]
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
Originally Posted By: Maven
I'm not sure who you're trying to convince...But you lack the supporting evidence to convince me. elitism, indeed. To imply that sign language is not a true language indicates only your own ignorance. And yes, I know from whence I speak on that particular topic.


The addressee is whoever wishes to consider my words.

I am not trying to convince you of anything. Well, yes, I am. But my purpose in saying what I did about language was to present my present understanding on the issue; also to see if others could give me some evidence and suggestions on how to support it, as well evidence against it and to point out errors of fact. If you aren’t convinced, then you aren’t convinced. But then, on the other hand, saying you aren’t convinced notes no error nor does it provide any substantial evidence contrary to my assertions.

As with everything, "It depends on what your definition of" (true language) "is." Every tribe and people use spoken language. Human language is spoken. It is represented by writing, but writing is not language per se. Likewise, when the blind use Braille and the deaf use sign language, when the navy uses flags and the boy scouts use Morse code, they are not using what is essentially language. They are using “paralanguage” (the use of manner of speaking to communicate particular meanings) which is based on the spoken language or on writing. They are using a system of communication based on a pre-existent system of communication, i.e. language.

However, I must note two things. First of all, my ignorance, admittedly both exhaustive and orphic, is in its particulars clandestine and astucious. To say, as you did, that my ignorance is obvious, is either evidence of your failure as a mind-reader or mere facetiousness. Second, I apologize for saying sign language is not a true language. Oh, wait, I didn't say that, did I? I did distinguish between "hand signs" (which specifically includes those mimicked gestures which simians are trained to make with their fore locomotor appendages) and "sign language," which enjoys a rich vocabulary of words and morphemes, manifests regional and idiolectic variations, and is open-ended (in terms of vocabulary, morphology, grammar).

I referred to sign language as “paralanguage.” I am guilty either of ambiguity or misuse of the word “paralanguage.” What I intended was ‘a system used in place of language; something that is not an essential feature of language.’ As is clear now, by ‘language’ I mean the spoken language, and if I must go further, spoken human language. My reasoning is above. I have little evidence beyond the references to “The Trouble with Ape-Language Studies”, How Nim Chimpsky Changed My Mind, http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=33598.80, and my own personal experiences, which are only anecdotal. I am still working through this. My mind is open for evidence on both sides. Presently the “only humans have language” argument appears the stronger. If your mind is solidly made up, then of course it is no surprise that the evidence you found in that article, the book and the web-site was not convincing.

of troy states: “ASL has every feature of language.” ASL lacks the phonological feature of language (human speech). ASL is not a "necessary" feature of language. In that sense, it is something beyond or after language. Writing, too has features of language (save phonemes), but writing is a representation of language, not language itself. ASL is a representation of language, a substitute for what is essentially speech.

It is crass (indelicate, lacking in discrimination) to condemn a person for having an opinion honestly arrived at for no better cause than owning an opposing opinion. The vulgar use of “elitism” contributes nothing to the discussion but warns those who might favor one side that to do so threatens their ostracism by the anti-elitist proletariat (I guess). Perhaps you seek to incite class warfare. You are attempting to squelch an argument by character assassination rather than by reasoning and evidence. However, it’s a silly exercise since elites do exist. Society depends on the existence of elites. If possession of spoken language is elite, then humans, not cockroaches nor dolphins nor monkeys, are the elites of the world, and linguists and philologists are the elites of humanity.

Thanks for the link, AnnaStrophic. The site looks like fun, which is what language ought to be (“to me”).

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#168794 - 06/21/07 12:33 AM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
olly Offline
old hand

Registered: 12/18/06
Posts: 956
Loc: Auckland, New Zealand
"All languages are equal but some languages are more equal than others."

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#168798 - 06/21/07 06:38 AM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: olly]
zmjezhd Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/13/05
Posts: 3290
Loc: R'lyeh
American Sign Language is not a simple mapping of signs to English or any other spoken/written language. OTOH, Signed Exact English is that, which is why for pedagogical reasons, e.g., teaching deaf kids written English, it is championed in US schools, and also why the deaf community shuns it. ASL has its own unique grammar. I have discussed this with linguists, deaf people who sign, and some who are an intersection of both groups.
_________________________
Ceci n'est pas un seing.

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#168799 - 06/21/07 06:43 AM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: zmjezhd]
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
Certainly one could insist that speech is an essential element of language but then one could insist that 'clicks' are an essential element of language. Saying it doesn't make it so.

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#168909 - 06/26/07 08:55 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Faldage]
Zed Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 08/27/02
Posts: 2154
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
Nanu Nanu
It is no wonder that you find that "Presently the “only humans have language” argument appears the stronger." since you define language as "the spoken language, and if I must go further, spoken human language."
You are quite right. ASL, while it has grammer, nuance, puns, and words/signs/symbols for complex and non-tangible concepts, does for some reason lack audible speech. hmmm.
You called it a "representation of language" but isn't language a representation in symbols, whether audible, writtten or signed, of objects and concepts? It is a bit like denying that English is a language since it is only a patched together representation of Latin and Greek.
edited for a typo


Edited by Zed (06/26/07 08:56 PM)

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#168956 - 06/29/07 04:34 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Zed]
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
Originally Posted By: Zed
Nanu Nanu
It is no wonder that you find that "Presently the “only humans have language” argument appears the stronger." since you define language as "the spoken language, and if I must go further, spoken human language."


That is in a sense true. Language is the verbal communication performed by humans. People naturally learn language. A child will learn language if around people who speak. A monkey will not learn gestures if around humans who gesture, unless those humans intentionally train the poor thing to mimic them.

I started with human communication, the definition, and gave it a word, language. It’s okay with me if people want to say ‘langue’ or ‘parole’ or something else. Written language is “writing.” Sign language is “sign.” Animal cries are “animal communication.” I believe these different terms do the different forms of communication justice, and allows one to distinguish between them without painful paraphrasis.

However, I do include more in the idea of what language is than just “human language.” True language has a teleology that animal communication does not share. Human language (true language as opposed to animal communication) treats, because it is capable of treating, reports of past events, plans for the future, descriptions and prescriptions, communication itself and improvement of communication, moral instruction, technical instruction, genealogy, translation, natural science, metaphysics, religion, politics, abstract concepts, hypotheses, distinguishing between ‘necessity’ and ‘accident’ (conditions), analyses and conclusions and emotional states beyond the animal ones of fear, anger, desire, and contentment. The differences between human thought and animal “thought” are a side of the discussion that interests me less because, well because my focus is language (spoken, written) rather than thought.

Originally Posted By: Zed
You are quite right. ASL, while it has grammer, nuance, puns, and words/signs/symbols for complex and non-tangible concepts, does for some reason lack audible speech. hmmm.
You called it a "representation of language" but isn't language a representation in symbols, whether audible, writtten or signed, of objects and concepts? It is a bit like denying that English is a language since it is only a patched together representation of Latin and Greek.
edited for a typo


Well, call me Clinton, but throughout this thread, I think that, for everyone, more hinges on “that depends on what your definition of language is” than on what language actually is. Some people believe “language” (as they define it) exists separate from and independent of (human) speech.

English is not a patched together representation of Latin and Greek. But I see your point. It is invalid.

Isn’t there some significance to the fact that among all the cultures of earth, there is none that lacks spoken language? On the other hand, there are millions who can not read or sign. Those who don’t just haven’t learned it; it’s not that they are not capable of it, but that on some level they have not needed it. Most who sign, however, haven’t done it for personal pleasure, but because they are incapable of (or have reduced ability in) speech or hearing; they do need it. Language is, primarily, speech. Speech came before the substitutes. The substitutes were created to bridge the gap, either between the language-capable and the language-incapable, or between places distant in space and time.

I know people will continue using the word “language” in that broad, general, ambiguous, sloppy way, to mean noises, pictures, and gestures. I will, I hope, use it more narrowly, specifically, singularly, and precisely. I will continue to study languages and linguistics, even Egyptian hieroglyphics and Mayan, but never dogish, dolphinski, or monkese.

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#168958 - 06/29/07 07:57 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
Originally Posted By: Nanu Nanu
People naturally learn language. A child will learn language if around people who speak. A monkey will not learn gestures if around humans who gesture, unless those humans intentionally train the poor thing to mimic them.


Do you know this to be true? Have you any experience of anyone who has raised a human child without speaking directly to the child, prompting the child to respond?

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#168985 - 07/03/07 01:02 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Faldage]
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
Originally Posted By: Faldage
Originally Posted By: Nanu Nanu
People naturally learn language. A child will learn language if around people who speak. A monkey will not learn gestures if around humans who gesture, unless those humans intentionally train the poor thing to mimic them.


Do you know this to be true? Have you any experience of anyone who has raised a human child without speaking directly to the child, prompting the child to respond?


Do I know what to be true?

I have no experience, nor even second-hand knowledge, of anyone who has raised a human child, which child used a human language, without speaking to the child. It may have happened; I just don't know. I will concede that a child must be spoken to in order to learn language. But, again, I don't really know if that is true. I am conceding it here because it doesn't matter. The child begins to learn and continues to learn language independently of formal training in it. In addition, I have read reports of children raised by deaf parents who learned Sign. I suppose that besides the Signing they did "directly to" the child, the child learned some Signing on its own independently of being directly taught. (Teaching is different from training, you realize?)

I do not believe people learn language (spoken or Sign) unless they are around others who use language. (I will concede what seems to be an important point to you, that the language must be directed at the child.) There have been cases where isolated children had been found, who apparently had created/developed no real language on their own. They grunted and screeched, and that was about it.

Monkeys, however, have been around people who speak "directly to" them, but they don't talk back. Never. They don't even Sign back to people who are deaf who use Sign to communicate with each other. Never.

Some new development may overthrow this, but I will not be persuaded by anyone's unsubstantiated religious passion that it "should" be so.

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#168991 - 07/03/07 08:04 PM Re: Fuzzy Animal Language [Re: Nanu Nanu]
Zed Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 08/27/02
Posts: 2154
Loc: British Columbia, Canada
I have a friend who has never spoken to his child - he is deaf and uses ASL. His son, who is hearing, uses sign language as spontaneously to Dan as he does spoken English to his mother. In fact he used it earlier since the hand coordination required to sign usually developes earlier than the mouth/throat coordination needed to speak.
You might as well say that flight only includes using feathers so jets and bats are merely imitating flight.

You state that "Monkeys, however, have been around people who speak "directly to" them, but they don't talk back. Never. They don't even Sign back to people who are deaf who use Sign to communicate with each other. Never."
You are quite right, monkeys don't, Several Chimpanzees and a couple of apes do however sign back to humans. In fact Koko has been known to lie, claiming when asked that one of the keepers broke a sink that she had broken.
You might want to check the latest research before accusing others of unsubstantiated statements.


edited to point out that some chimps sign not sing!


Edited by Zed (07/03/07 08:05 PM)

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#169136 - 07/12/07 01:10 AM Fuzzy Arguments [Re: Zed]
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
Originally Posted By: Zed
I have a friend who has never spoken to his child - he is deaf and uses ASL. His son, who is hearing, uses sign language as spontaneously to Dan as he does spoken English to his mother. In fact he used it earlier since the hand coordination required to sign usually developes earlier than the mouth/throat coordination needed to speak.
You might as well say that flight only includes using feathers so jets and bats are merely imitating flight.

You state that "Monkeys, however, have been around people who speak "directly to" them, but they don't talk back. Never. They don't even Sign back to people who are deaf who use Sign to communicate with each other. Never."
You are quite right, monkeys don't, Several Chimpanzees and a couple of apes do however sign back to humans. In fact Koko has been known to lie, claiming when asked that one of the keepers broke a sink that she had broken.
You might want to check the latest research before accusing others of unsubstantiated statements.


edited to point out that some chimps sign not sing!


I am happy for your friend and his son. Your analogy of language and flight doesn't fly. By "monkeys" (which I used intentionally), I meant all simians, all non-humans that might be considered to be signing. Checking the latest research was exactly what I was attempting to do. Your anecdotal references to a friend with a deaf child is not the kind of research I was looking for, nor were the various fanatical claims that "animals can so speak!" Koko lied? How was it determined it was not a simple slip of the tongue/hand or dislexia or something else. Saying, "Koko has been known to lie" is anecdotal. I would like to study the actual report. I am beginning to suspect that you may have not read Terrace.

What I had written earlier:

"Would someone kindly advise me where I can find a thorough, conclusive discussion on the subject of the word "Language" -- in particular "human language" vs. "animal language." I know what people are saying -- opinions rather than formal explanations."

Unfortunately this thread has a high content of unsubstantiated fanatical opinions.

"I was looking for a treatment of the differences between that (language proper) and animal communication. Or, the best, most complete, most exact definition offered by and accepted by linguists, philologists, and language lovers."

Linguists, philogists, and language lovers. Not humanitarians, pet owners speaking from "personal experience" (or personal feelings, more likely), not argumentum ad hominem, not argumentum ad populum, not pathopoeia ("pathetic argument").

"The best I've found so far is by someone who actually 'worked with' animals to determine their linguistic ability (inseparable from mental ability): The Trouble with Ape-Language Studies, by H. S. Terrace, in Psychology Today, November 1979. (He also wrote How Nim Chimpsky Changed My Mind, which I have not read.) I also found an informal discussion of the subject at http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=33598.80, which held a few noteworthy observations"

H. S. Terrace. That's still the best I've found. Has anyone else participating in this thread read Terrace? Has anyone else participating in this thread read responses to his writing? That's what I was asking for. In response there are anecdotes about deaf friends and accusations of "elitism" for suggesting that animals probably aren't really quite as intellectually advanced as humans, despite the formers' vast literature and profound story-telling abilities.

And as comments became more rude, accusatorial, and counter-productive:

"But my purpose in saying what I did about language was to present my present understanding on the issue; also to see if others could give me some evidence and suggestions on how to support it, as well evidence against it and to point out errors of fact. If you aren’t convinced, then you aren’t convinced. But then, on the other hand, saying you aren’t convinced notes no error nor does it provide any substantial evidence contrary to my assertions."

As I review the contributions, there aren't many that do more than offer opinions. (And condemnation for my reluctance to join the animal language bandwagon.)

You wrote: "You might want to check the latest research before accusing others of unsubstantiated statements." Checking the latest research is exactly what I was attempting! Where were you!? If there is more recent research that overturns Terrace' findings, I am eager to study it. I have asked for it. Why do you refuse to cite the recent research? I cannot find it. I am not a simiolgist. I am not a professional, grant-supported linguist. I am not a professional researcher.

What do you mean, "accusing others of unsubstantiated statements"? Did I do that. If so, I apologize. I probably just didn't recognize the scientific substantiation they were providing. I hope anyone who feels I ignored the substantiation for their statements please give me another chance. Please restate your statements with the scientific substantiation in bold. And if you cannot stand disagreement, please let me know that, too, so I don't waste my time describing the studies I have read that may disagree with your . . . research.

I am someone who is very interested in the subject of languages and "animal language," enough to read what is available if I know where to find it. I am completely willing to read the recent research, pro and con and anything else. Where is that research that overturns Terrace' findings!?

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#169141 - 07/12/07 06:56 AM Re: Fuzzy Arguments [Re: Nanu Nanu]
Faldage Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 12/01/00
Posts: 13803
First place I'd look would be Language Log. There's nothing right up top right now, but if you look around in there you will find some informed comments, informed, at least, in the sense that they know quite a bit about human languages. If you look around through their links something more to the point may show up and it's a good trip just all by itself. The general opinion that I've seen from those pages is that the big difference is that human languages use recursion. Dig around some more and you'll find posts that explicitly address the question of animal communication systems. Apparently there are some that do use recursion, but we, as humans, have not spent a lot of time examining that particular question. Whether because we have rejected the possibility out of hand or not I couldn't say.

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#169296 - 07/18/07 07:10 PM Re: Fuzzy Arguments [Re: Faldage]
Nanu Nanu Offline
stranger

Registered: 05/30/07
Posts: 13
Thanks for the suggestions, Faldage!

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