Re: Pinker: "The Language Instinct"

From: Sonia Whitehead (
Date: Mon Dec 01 1997 - 17:22:22 GMT

In reply to the discussion last Tuesday on whether dolphins
and chimpanzees have a language, I think that their
communication methods are so dissimilar to human language
that they cannot be compared. However I agree with Klair that
we do not know enough about Dolphins to reject the idea that
they have a language at all. They could have a complicated
communication system in the same way as bats have a complex
sonar system.

Dolphins have a very different environment that they have
adapted to, compared to humans so their language would have
evolved differently due to different environmental pressures
acting on them and as a result probablly has none of the same
structures as human language. Dolphins have the ability to
produce different sounds which can be heard for long
distances under water and this has evolved because dolphins
who could understand these sound codes could use the
information to escape predators and therefore were more
reproductively successful.

We cannot conclude that dolphin language is as complex and
propositional as humans but we do not have enough evidence to
say otherwise to say definitely that they don't. We can only
conclude that it differs and has not evolved in the same way.
Language could have evolved in different ways depending on
the species because the big advantage of language is that it
allows the communication of information which aids survival.
If different species all talked using the same rules the
language would not give them the same evolutionary advantage.
This could be why different types of human language evolved
to protect different communities against others but
ultimately humans want to have power over all other species
so tey can hunt them therefore it is advantageous form humans
to understand each other to some degree.

It has been shown that chimpanzees are able to learn certain
aspects of language and have a degree of memory but they do
not seem to have universal grammar as humans do. Can we say
then that humans are the only species that have universal
grammar and that is what makes human language so different
and more complex than other ways of communicating?

I am not sure if I have got the right endo of the stick on
this debate and I hope it hasn't come accross as too muddled.

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