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Lecture 3 Animals and Human Language

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1 Lecture 3 Animals and Human Language
Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü In this lecture we are going to consider two issues; the first one is the features or properties of human language that distinguish it from other systems such as animal communication. We’ll also spend some time on animal communication and whether they can learn or have what we call language. a

2 Animals and Human Language
Can animals learn to communicate with humans using language? Does human language have properties that make it impossible for animals to learn it? Communication: Communicative signals: Signals that you send intentionally in order to communicate with others. Informative signals: Signals that you send unintentionally e.g. Your hair is dishevelled or your socks do not match etc… Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü Chapter 2 begins with a couple of questions. The first one is whether animals can learn…. And the other is whether human language has any properties…… Before we look at the characteristics of human language, let’s talk about communication. Using a communicative signal, you clearly want to convey some information, you do it deliberately. You also send informative signals that may be unintentional in certain cases. For instance, your hair is unkempt or…….. You are not very organized. or people may think you are sleepy because you yawned. Animal communication is similar to that. A blackbird is not communicating anything by having black feathers but is giving a communicative signal when, say, it sees a big cat around.

3 Properties of human language
Communication is the primary function of human language but not a distinguishing feature. All creatures communicate in some way. However, they do not think about the way they communicate or talk about how they talk Reflexivity: Human language has the property of reflexivity, meaning we can use language to think and talk about language itself. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü We talk about how we talk or how others talk and try to make the way we talk better for the sake of communication. What this means is that you will not find a dog that will reflect on how it barks. Reflexivity is one of the distinguishing features of human language. No dog barks about barking or no bird chirps about chirping.

4 Properties of human language
Displacement: Humans can talk about things that happened in the past or will happen in the future Animal communication seems to be restricted to this moment, here and now (except for bee lang.) This property allows language users to talk about things and events that are not present. We often talk about Gulyabani, Superman, Kara Murat, heaven. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü We often talk about events and things that are not present or do not even exist. For instance, when you utter the sentence ‘Gandalf kills Balrog’ neither Gandalf nor Balrog are real, they are fictional characters.

5 Properties of human language
Arbitrariness: The relationship between an object like table and the word that describes it is arbitrary, e.g. tree, ağaç, baum. Languages use different signs to convey the same meaning. Signals animals send seem to be closely related to the message conveyed. The set of signals animals use is finite. They have limited ‘vocabulary’. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü A written word does not look like its meaning.

6 Properties of human language
Productivity: Humans create new words and utterances by using existing resources to describe new objects/concepts, e.g. akbil, google, . Other creatures do not have this kind of flexibility in their communication system. Cicadas have only four signals and vervet monkeys have 36 vocal calls. Not possible to produce new signals! Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü Objects, concepts and situations! This indicates the fact that the potential number of utterances in human language is infinite. Cicadas [sikeyda] have only four signals to choose from and vervet monkeys have only 36 vocal calls. Also, it is not the case that animals can learn/come up with new signals.

7 Properties of human language
Cultural Transmission: We acquire our language in a culture with other speakers. It includes our accent and expressions. Cultural transmission is when a language is passed on from one generation to the next. We are born with an ability to acquire any language but learn our first language in a culture. Animals are born with a set of specific signals produced instinctively: inborn. There is also some learning! Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü We learn our first language in a cultural setting, not from parental genes. There is some learning involved. Some birds learn some calls.

8 Properties of human language
Duality: Human language is organized at two separate levels simultaneously: distinct sounds & distinct meaning. A physical level at which we produce individual sounds like [t], [ş] and [u]. These forms do not have any meaning individually. In a particular combination such as tuş and şut, we have a different level producing a meaning. Animal communicative signals are fixed and cannot be broken into parts: meow is not m-e-o-w Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü A limited set of distinct sounds which carry no individual meaning and the combination of sounds which carry meaning. Language is very economical: with a number of discrete sounds, we can produce an infinite number of meanings.

9 Talking to animals Human languages have properties not shared by the communication systems of animals. There are people who try to teach animals human language. Can animals learn language? It looks like animals produce a particular behavior in response to a particular sound-stimulus. A baby and puppy growing up in the same environment will show differences! Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü

10 Chimpanzees and language
There have been several attempts to teach human language to chimpanzees! 1930s: A chimp named Gua was trained. He was able to understand a hundred words but could not produce any of them. 1940s: Another chimp named Viki. She was taught how to speak, was able to poorly articulate words like mama, papa and cup. Result: It was understood that non-human primates lack a physically structured vocal tract needed to produce speech sounds. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü Chimps and gorillas are physiologically and developmentally similar to humans. Gua was able to understand about one hundred words but wasn’t able to say any of them. Perhaps one of the well-known examples of a chimpanzee learning human language is one where a chimp named Washoe.

11 Chimpanzees and language
1960s: Washoe was taught American Sign Lang. She learnt how to sign more than 100 words: airplane, baby, banana. She combined word forms to produce sentences: more fruit and open fruit drink. Sarah and Lana: two chimps that learned to use a set of plastic shapes (word symbols) for communication with humans. The plastic shapes represented ‘words’ and Sarah put them one after another to build ‘sentences’. Lana learned a language that consisted of a set of symbols on a keyboard. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü Washoe is the first non-human to learn language

12 The Controversy Herbert Terrace: Chimps simply produce signs in response to the demands of people and tend to repeat signs those people use. This does not mean that they are taking part in ‘conversation’. The behavior of the chimps should be viewed as a type of conditioned response. Terrace’s conclusion is that chimps are clever creatures who learn to produce a certain type of behavior (signing or symbol selection) in order to get rewards. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü

13 The Controversy (cont’d)
The Gardners argue that they were not animal trainers, nor were they eliciting conditioned responses from Washoe. In the absence of any human, Washoe could produce correct signs to identify objects in pictures. The Gardners also report that another group of younger chimps not only learned sign language, but also used signs with each other and with Washoe, even when there were no humans present. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü

14 Kanzi 1980s: Kanzi, the Bonobo, learned the word symbols not by being taught but by being exposed to them at an early age. Vocabulary of 90 symbols Could understand English Command of syntax Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü Kanzi has an interesting story. Scientists were training a Bonobo called Matata how to use some symbols in Yerkish. This failed but Matata’s adopted son Kanzi learned Yerkish with no problem.

15 Using Language Were Washoe and Kanzi capable of taking part in interaction with humans by using a symbol system chosen by humans and not chimpanzees? Yes! Did Washoe and Kanzi go on to perform linguistically on a level comparable to a human child about to begin pre-school? No! It seems it is difficult to have a non-controversial definition of ‘using language’. Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü

16 Using Language (cont’d)
We should stop thinking of language as a single thing that one can either have or cannot have. There are at least two ways of thinking about what ‘using language’ means. Language serves as a type of communication system that can be observed in a variety of different situations. The behavior of a two-year old human child talking to her parents as an example of ‘using language’. A similar behavior from chimpanzees or bonobos when they are interacting with humans they know! Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü

17 Appendix There is no natural connection between a word and the object it denotes/describes. Figure Figure 2 Asst. Prof. Dr. Emrah Görgülü

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