"All animals are equal.
But humans are more equal..."
(B. Osthaus, adapted from Animal Farm, G. Orwell)
The fundamental difference between humans and other animals has often been asserted by the former.
Some people use this argument to try to justify the mal-treatment and abuse of animals.
But even humans who love animals, spoil their pets or have a quite sensible attitude towards them might not be happy to be called an animal themselves. So why and how shall we make this distinction?
Animals are intelligent, as you have seen so far in this lecture course. You have covered areas like cognitive abilities, associative learning, discrimination and concepts, memory and theory of mind.
What is it that distinguishes animals from humans? Is it not a continuum of abilities that does not need to be split into two?
One feature that obviously represents a fundamental difference between animals and humans is the use of language.
The philosopher and mathematician Decartes believed that language separated humans who have souls from animals who do not (de Luce & Wilder, 1983). But on the other hand there is a long history of the attempts and trials of humans to teach language to animals. The question whether apes, for example, can use language has been asked for some time. In 1661 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary about what he called a "baboone": "I do believe it already understands much english; and I am of the mind it might be taught to speak or make signs" (as cited in Wallman, 1992).
In this lecture I would like to introduce you to this fascinating topic of language in animals. As you can see from the menu on the left on the screen the lecture is divided into four areas about language and research, a literature and link page, questions about the content and a feedback.
First the area of the concept and definition of language will be covered for you to understand the discussions and problems the researchers were and are facing. Then you will be introduced to some of the historical figures (Vicki and Gua) who were taught language (or maybe not, as you will see). The area of Communication Projects contains information and links to some current research projects. And finally you find projects about language research with non-primate animals. You will see that some species are more apt to produce human-like sounds (parrots) whereas other animals do understand a wide range of human signals but have not been tested to produce human-like language themselves (dolphins, sea lions). The woodpecker project is somewhat extraordinary in that it focuses on the signalling of the birds by pecking in codes. Whether this is language or not is up to you to decide.
On the Literature and Link page you can find all the references used in this lecture plus other interesting books and articles. Don't be shocked by the amount of links. There are many webpages, discussion groups and animal right groups which you can but don't have to link to.
The questions at the end of the lecture are designed to help you to check whether you understood the basic ideas of this lecture.
And finally I would like you to fill in the feedback form. It is important that you list your name(s) on the form as I will keep a record of whom filled it in.
You can download the content of the pages as a Word document here.
And please feel free to email me if you have any questions.