Terrence W. Deacon on Animal Language - Dictionary of Arguments
Animal language/Deacon: the communication of other species is never a "simpler form" of human language. It is not language at all.
Biological explanation/Deacon: is always evolutionary and tries to show continuity. However, there are no animal precursors to the emergence of human language, let alone an ascending scale of complexity. (See Robin Dunbar, Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, 1997(1); and Dunbar 1992 a(2), b(3)).
Animal language/animals/Deacon: the misconception that animal calls and gestures are like words or phrases can be traced back to misunderstandings about the concept of reference.
Behaviorism: some behaviorists have suggested that animal cries are just external expressions of internal states and therefore have nothing to do with reference.
Cognitive behaviorists saw calls as equivalent to words. One study played a central role in this.
Seyfarth/Cheney: Thesis: Warning calls of guenons are like names for predators in the distance. (See Seyfarth, Cheney and Marler 1980(4)).
In response to various calls, the monkeys left the trees (warning of eagles) or jumped on trees (leopards) or peeked into bushes (snake).
Deacon: this is evolutionary easy to explain. Since the saving behaviour cannot always look the same and is even mutually exclusive, different calls have to be distinguished. (See also Hauser, 1996(5)).
Animal calls/Cheney/Seyfarth/Deacon: Cheney and Seyfarth initially assumed that the animal calls were names for the predators. These were accepted instead of a complete sentence, i.e. as "holophrastic" utterances.
Holophrastic utterances/Deacon: it is disputed how much syntactic potential lies in them. ((s) See Wittgenstein language game "Platte").
Animal communication: the thesis was put forward that warning cries were different from cries of pain or grimaces by referring to something else...
...than the inner state of the animal.
Reference/DeaconVsCheney/DeaconVsSeyfarth: it was implicitly assumed that pain cries, for example, could not be referring. Such assumptions give rise to the idea of a "proto-language" with calls as "vocabulary". Then you could imagine an animal language evolution with grammar and syntax that emerged later. This whole house of cards is falling apart however. (See also Cheney and Seyfarth, 1990(6)).
Reference/Deacon: is not limited to language. Symptoms can refer to something other than themselves. For example, laughter: is congenital in humans. It does not have to be produced intentionally and can be simulated in social contexts. But laughter can also refer to things, even to absent ones. In this way alarm calls also refer.
Language/DeaconVsSeyfarth/DeaconVsCheney: e.g. laughter differs from speech by the fact that it is contagious. In a room full of laughing people, it is hard to be serious. The idea of a room full of people repeating just one sentence is absurd.
Intentionality/Intention/animal calls/Deacon: Animal calls do not fulfil the Grice criterion for messages either: "I think you believe that I believe x". Animal calls are involuntary and contagious.
Solution/Deacon: it is more about spreading excitement than sharing information.
Reference/Deacon: therefore, reference is not the distinguishing feature between animal calls and words. Both can refer to inner states and things in the outer world. We must therefore distinguish between different types of reference rather than distinguish between referring and allegedly non-referring signals.
Animal language/Herrnstein/Deacon: (Herrnstein et al. 1980(7)): Trials with pigeons who had successfully learned an arbitrary sign language and cooperation.
Symbolic reference/Deacon: this simple form of reference with the characteristic learned association, randomness of characters, transmission of information between individuals are not sufficient to define symbolic reference. A symbolic reference system does not simply consist of words without syntax.
Animal calls: in one sense their understanding is innate, on the other hand the connection to the referent is not necessary. The reference is somewhat flexible. Some connections are built in prenatal, others are learned.
Symbolic competence: is that which goes beyond parrot-like expressions. For this purpose, one has to distinguish between contextually determined causes of expression and memorized dictations.
1) Dunbar, R. (1996): Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
(4) Seyfarth, R. M., Cheney, D. L., & Marler, P. (1980): Vervet monkey alarm calls: Semantic communication in a free-ranging primate. Animal Behaviour, 28(4), 1070–1094.
(5) Hauser, M. D. (1996): The evolution of communication. The MIT Press.
(6) Cheney, D. L., & Seyfarth, R. M. (1990): How monkeys see the world: Inside the mind of another species. University of Chicago Press.
(7) Herrnstein et al. (1980):_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
T. W. Deacon
The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of language and the Brain New York 1998
Terrence W. Deacon
Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter New York 2013