Do Animals Use Some Properties of Human Language Essay

1214 Words Mar 29th, 2011 5 Pages
Are there special properties of human language or can they be found in the communication systems of other creatures? Philip Tweedle

This essay will discuss whether six of Hockett’s design features, which are properties of language, are exclusively human or can they be found in other creatures communications. For each of the features, the communication of wild apes, trained apes and humans will be compared. This will not be based solely on vocal communication, but explore the research into signing and ‘pointing’ apes (apes using symbols on a keyboard, Aitchison, 2008). The first reason to discuss this, is because human language is not restricted to vocal communication: we can use sign language and the written word. The second
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He found that “Even the impressive vervet monkey only has thirty-six distinct vocal sounds in its repertoire. And this includes sneezing and vomiting” (Aitchison, 2008, p32). Some of the danger calls that the Vervet monkey used are specific to the type of animal causing the danger: “The chuffer announces that a puff adder or cobra is around. The rraup gives warning of an eagle. A chirp is used for lions and leopards(LEOPARDS?)” (Aitchison, 2008, p26); this proves that they have a certain degree of specialisation. This feature is also present in the signing and pointing chimps, who after extensive training could specify the type of action they wanted, for example Washoe (a female chimp) would give the sign for “MORE TICKLE” or “MORE SWING”.

The third feature, non-directionality, is where a signal or a call is produced to one intended receiver but anyone within earshot would hear the sound or call. This is found in both humans and apes, but this does not apply to the signing or pointing chimps. When a chimp (or human) signs, the receiver or receivers would have to be looking straight at them, this is especially true for the pointers. For example Lana (a female chimp) wrote “YOU GIVE COKE TO LANA” (Aitchison, 2008, p45) and only the people viewing the screen were able to receive the message.

The forth feature, rapid fade, is when a signal or call is produced and the sound dissipates quickly. Obviously vocal

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