Author Topic: Man vs. Beast  (Read 16023 times)

Offline Daniel

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #30 on: May 27, 2014, 10:40:55 PM »
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You seem to be conflating structured talk about verbal efficacy (metapragmatics) with mere verbal response to a signal (not metapragmatics). If the cat said something like, "You know dog, you'd be a lot more likely to get your owner's attention with whining than barking" or "Your barking sounds ridiculous because it's very similar to my word for asparagus", that would be metapragmatic. Meowing at barks, however, isn't on its face metapragmatic in the slightest.
Regarding the Pirahã discourse described above, I see it as much closer to the "response to stimulus" you describe than what you're calling "metapragmatic". *shrug*

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Actually, coining a new term in that way would be almost certainly be metapragmatic.
To be clear, I meant the coining would be an unconscious, uncontrolled process through natural language use. It would not be something I "decided" to do. My phrasing may have been ambiguous.

I'll take a look at the link.
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Offline MalFet

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #31 on: May 27, 2014, 10:59:35 PM »
Regarding the Pirahã discourse described above, I see it as much closer to the "response to stimulus" you describe than what you're calling "metapragmatic". *shrug*

You don't see a significant difference between people saying they want to learn Portuguese because they fear they are being swindled by Portuguese speakers, on the one hand, and a cat meowing at a barking dog, on the other? I find that baffling, to say the least.

Offline Guijarro

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #32 on: May 28, 2014, 12:48:25 AM »
I think that this METAPRAGMATIC concept (if I understand it well enough) is another way to say metapragmatically what I intend to make cognitively manifest about my cognitive/linguistic coin instead of your communicative/linguistic one.

Offline MalFet

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #33 on: May 28, 2014, 12:53:25 AM »
I think that this METAPRAGMATIC concept (if I understand it well enough) is another way to say metapragmatically what I intend to make cognitively manifest about my cognitive/linguistic coin instead of your communicative/linguistic one.

With a few caveats, I think you are absolutely correct.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #34 on: May 28, 2014, 06:44:48 AM »
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You don't see a significant difference between people saying they want to learn Portuguese because they fear they are being swindled by Portuguese speakers, on the one hand, and a cat meowing at a barking dog, on the other? I find that baffling, to say the least.
1. I thought we were discussing noticing the similarities between Everett's utterance (a pronunciation of a written word) and Pirahã, not their desire to learn Portuguese. Is that even established? I didn't know they wanted to learn Portuguese. If so, it goes against a lot of what Everett says about their culture in the here and now! [This is aside from the Brazilian government's creepy intervention by adding buildings and a Portuguese school with a TV!]
2. It's not that I don't see a difference, but that I don't see a categorical one, especially when we don't know the full thought process of the cat. Observing verbal behavior doesn't give us that information. From the behavior itself, I'm not sure it isn't metapragmatic.
3. This all seems behavioral to me, not linguistic. The Pirahã might also want guns. Would that also be classified as metapragmatic?
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Offline jkpate

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #35 on: May 28, 2014, 07:14:46 AM »
3. This all seems behavioral to me, not linguistic. The Pirahã might also want guns. Would that also be classified as metapragmatic?

If they want guns as symbols, such as to communicate power, wealth, or political allegiances, then I think it would be meta-pragmatic. If they want guns for non-symbolic purposes, such as to use them to hunt, then that would not be meta-pragmatic on my understanding.
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Offline MalFet

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #36 on: May 28, 2014, 08:21:26 AM »
1. I thought we were discussing noticing the similarities between Everett's utterance (a pronunciation of a written word) and Pirahã, not their desire to learn Portuguese. Is that even established? I didn't know they wanted to learn Portuguese.

Are you really not clear on what I'm referring to here? If so, that's frustrating.
http://linguistforum.com/historical-linguistics/man-vs-beast/msg2406/#msg2406

2. It's not that I don't see a difference, but that I don't see a categorical one, especially when we don't know the full thought process of the cat. Observing verbal behavior doesn't give us that information. From the behavior itself, I'm not sure it isn't metapragmatic.

If you can find me an animal behaviorist who suggests that feline communication involves metapragmatics, let's talk. Until then, if we're attributing complex cognition in the absence of evidence, why not just assume the cat is meowing because he's fed up with post-structuralist social theory and its critical obsession with Cartesian epistemology? I know I am!

3. This all seems behavioral to me, not linguistic. The Pirahã might also want guns. Would that also be classified as metapragmatic?

Well, no. Of course not. At least not without the addition of something else...i.e., as jkpate suggests, an argument that "guns make words more powerful", or something like that.

I can't help but feel that you have absolutely no idea what the word "metapragmatics" means. That's fine, of course, and it is indeed a moderately complicated idea, but if you don't know what it means that makes your very strong opinions about what it does and doesn't apply to a bit premature, no?

All I can suggest at this point is that you look at the article I posted.  Alternately, the more recent article "Metapragmatic Discourse and Metapragmatic Function" might be a better overview, but "Limits of Awareness" was very first introduction of the idea. I can recommend many others if either of those are not to your liking.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #37 on: May 28, 2014, 10:32:02 AM »
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Are you really not clear on what I'm referring to here? If so, that's frustrating.
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They told us that they wanted to learn this because they knew that they did not understand nonbarter economic relations and wanted to be able to tell whether they were being cheated.
As I said earlier, I'm not clear on exactly what that means. For example, I don't know how much interpretation is involved in "want to learn Portuguese". To put it in more technical terms, I'm not sure whether they said that extensionally and intensionally.
If someone orders a pizza (let's say in Italian) and then has food, someone might say "I want to do that". I'm tentatively (conservatively) suggesting that may be entirely behavioral (extension). You are claiming it is linguistic/metapragmatic (intensional). You might be right, but I don't know that you're right.

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If you can find me an animal behaviorist who suggests that feline communication involves metapragmatics, let's talk. Until then, if we're attributing complex cognition in the absence of evidence, why not just assume the cat is meowing because he's fed up with post-structuralist social theory and its critical obsession with Cartesian epistemology? I know I am!
Again, I don't know. I know little of the field of animal communication (one reason I'm interested in it at the moment). But, for example, Con Slobodchikoff (whose book I've been reading-- that's why I keep mentioning the name) would probably say we can't know until we actually understand their communicative behavior/system from their perspective. And that's all I'm saying-- we don't know.

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Well, no. Of course not. At least not without the addition of something else...i.e., as jkpate suggests, an argument that "guns make words more powerful", or something like that.
Ok, and that would then be metapragmatic, even completely outside the domain of language?




In the end, I'm questioning the strict dichotomy. I don't question that humans are farther along the spectrum than other animals.
As a hypothetical, let's imagine that there is some intermediate level in the spectrum. What would that look like?
It may turn out to be a completely false assumption (that there is some spectrum to consider), but let's falsify it, rather than assuming it doesn't exist.



Just to add another animal communication act to the discussion, consider parrots that imitate humans. They then have a collection of signs including normal bird sounds and some human words like "hello". What I'd wonder is if there is any evidence whatsoever that they distinguish between the two types of signs as a (human) bilingual would, even to a very small extent. Do they say "hello" to other birds? Do they make normal bird noises to humans?
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Offline MalFet

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #38 on: May 28, 2014, 11:50:18 PM »
If someone orders a pizza (let's say in Italian) and then has food, someone might say "I want to do that". I'm tentatively (conservatively) suggesting that may be entirely behavioral (extension). You are claiming it is linguistic/metapragmatic (intensional). You might be right, but I don't know that you're right.

I'm not really following you in the slightest. How could any act of speech be entirely extensional (let alone one using deictic shifters like "I" and "that"!)?

You seem to want metapragmatic function to depend on some sort of distinction between concept and behavior but -- again -- that's just not what's at stake. That's just not what it's about. Kripke himself talks about the extensional dimensions of metapragmatics at some length. Heck, that's precisely what his baptismal events are: extensional metapragmatics.

If a person interprets the arrival of pizza as the effect of speaking in some particular way or under some particular set of circumstances, that's a pragmatic interpretation. If that person goes on to talk about wanting to be able to produce that same effect themselves, that's metapragmatic discourse. Full stop. Whatever other conditions you are imposing on the term are just incorrect.

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If you can find me an animal behaviorist who suggests that feline communication involves metapragmatics, let's talk. Until then, if we're attributing complex cognition in the absence of evidence, why not just assume the cat is meowing because he's fed up with post-structuralist social theory and its critical obsession with Cartesian epistemology? I know I am!
Again, I don't know. I know little of the field of animal communication (one reason I'm interested in it at the moment). But, for example, Con Slobodchikoff (whose book I've been reading-- that's why I keep mentioning the name) would probably say we can't know until we actually understand their communicative behavior/system from their perspective. And that's all I'm saying-- we don't know.

And, we do understand a great deal about animal communication systems, particularly primate systems. Is it possible that we will one day realize that some animals have language complexity vastly beyond what we currently appreciate, including even metapragmatic functions? Sure. Is it possible that one day we will realize that the moon actually is made out of cheese? Also sure. This room for skepticism is not unique to these particular problems but rather is built into the scientific process itself.

In the meantime, at least, everything we know about animal communication tells us that they don't engage in metapragmatic functions. In the absence of dramatic new findings, that is and will continue to be the state of the art. Unevidenced speculations about what we might discover in the future don't change that.

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Well, no. Of course not. At least not without the addition of something else...i.e., as jkpate suggests, an argument that "guns make words more powerful", or something like that.
Ok, and that would then be metapragmatic, even completely outside the domain of language?

I have absolutely no idea how you could make a statement about the power of words "outside the domain of language". That's just a contradiction of terms on several different levels.




In the end, I'm questioning the strict dichotomy. I don't question that humans are farther along the spectrum than other animals. As a hypothetical, let's imagine that there is some intermediate level in the spectrum. What would that look like? It may turn out to be a completely false assumption (that there is some spectrum to consider), but let's falsify it, rather than assuming it doesn't exist.

Of course there is a wide spectrum of complexity in metapragmatic functions. The article I keep pointing you towards is chiefly about exactly that continuum. But, at minimum and by definition, metapragmatic function requires a speaker to treat the consequentiality of language as itself an object of language. Despite vast quantities of research, there is exactly no evidence that I am aware of to suggest that animals do this. If you happen to find any, I'd be very interested to learn of it.

Just to add another animal communication act to the discussion, consider parrots that imitate humans. They then have a collection of signs including normal bird sounds and some human words like "hello". What I'd wonder is if there is any evidence whatsoever that they distinguish between the two types of signs as a (human) bilingual would, even to a very small extent. Do they say "hello" to other birds? Do they make normal bird noises to humans?

No clue, but whether they do these things or not is irrelevant to their metapragmatic capabilities (or lack thereof).

Offline MrChiLambda

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #39 on: June 01, 2015, 05:45:10 AM »
Vibrations are fairly complex.

A dolphin vibrates with clicks, and that is better able to traverse water.

A cat uses tone, most probably. Emotion expressed through varied pitches. I am unsure if they are attempting to learn to speak to humans, and the language is incomplete, or if they already do a formal language and are bending it towards us. When seeing mother daughter cats communicate, they tend to be silent and use their eyes.

A dog. Maybe they are similar to cats in the sense they communicate in other ways, primarily instinct, impulse and scent, correct? I am unsure if they have any formal language, or heightened sense of observation when compared to cats.


Offline Copernicus

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #40 on: June 09, 2015, 11:05:22 AM »
My problem with discussing what other animals with complex brains do and don't think is that our empathic abilities can sometimes fail pretty miserably with other human cultures, and it is much, much harder to put ourselves in the heads of different animal species.  First of all, we need to remember that human language need not be speech-based.  It is at least plausible that our speaking ability evolved in conjunction with equally complex gestural communication.  One major evolutionary advantage of speech over gesture (or any visual mode) is that it works in the dark.

Charles Fillmore once told me that he liked to define language as "word-guided mental telepathy".  Of course, that metaphor works very well in the context of Frame Semantics, but it is a really profound statement about the nature of human communication.  Ultimately, it is about the replication of thought in different minds.  Animals clearly make inferences about the behavior of other animals and things in their environment, and it is really useful for social animals to be able to communicate those inferences across a species by any means at all.  Spoken communication is just a very useful, efficient way of doing that in so many social interactions.  And we are able to transfer spoken communication to other formats, as well, e.g. gesture, writing, touch (touch-typing, braille).

So, why don't we understand "cat"?  The fact is that cats, like humans, have a call system.  They can convey thoughts through sound, and we can learn to understand their calls on some level and even imitate them.  Cats can also understand our behavior on that level.  When we cry, scream, and laugh, I do think that animals we socialize with--cats, dogs, parrots, dolphins--understand that level of communication, at least up to a point.  We do a better job of communicating with other primates, especially other apes.  Do the other apes have what we would call "language"?  That is, can they string "words" together to communicate the finer nuances of their world models?  I think that it is still very much of an open question about how much we can interact with them on that level, but I suspect that they do a much better job of reading the minds of other members of their species than we do of reading theirs.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2015, 11:07:09 AM by Copernicus »

Offline adadglgmatt

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #41 on: July 06, 2015, 08:59:42 AM »
I hope this thread is still alive. I realize I am jumping on about a year late.

I also want to address your question simply and at face value, so when you say that, given the assumption that human language is more complex a beast's language (e.g. a cat's language), we should be able to speak to beasts since we understand a higher form of their language.

In reality, I'm don't think you can call a lot of what the animal kingdom uses as communication a "language". Without looking up the word, I say that language is a form of communication that aides its communication with symbols, either phonetically or graphically or gesturally, and those symbols follow some sort of syntax. Language is also GREATLY supported by other forms of communication that we share with nearly all animals that have a social element, such as expressing emotion through our tone of voice and posture.

So when you ask why we can't "speak cat", I would say we can pretty well, if you mean communicate with cats. I have a dog and I know that I can fairly reliable communicate to him when I am ready to play by having a certain posture and beating my hands on the ground and tossing his toy around. I am communicating with my dog and I believe we both understand each other (to some degree), which I find beautiful and really motivating. But at the same time, I'm not "speaking dog" because I don't think there is a "dog language."

Please excuse any poor form in my response. I am new to the forum environment. If you see any formatting or structural ways I can improve, please let me know :). And thanks for the thought-provoking question!

Matthew

Offline panini

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #42 on: July 06, 2015, 09:14:43 AM »
I say that language is a form of communication that aides its communication with symbols, either phonetically or graphically or gesturally, and those symbols follow some sort of syntax.
I hope you are not intentionally saying that the purpose of language is communication, since that is incorrect. Communication is a possible use of language, as is obfuscation; but the purpose of language is cognition.

Offline Daniel

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #43 on: July 06, 2015, 10:38:31 AM »
Quote from: panini
but the purpose of language is cognition.
Why are you assuming there is some purpose to language, and not just effects of language. Evolution doesn't have goals, just results.
(And the idea that language=cognition rather than language=communication is controversial; further, isn't obfuscation a kind of communicative goal?)


Matthew, welcome to the forum!

Of course you're right on some level. But is it that simple? You seem to be approaching it as a subset relationship where your communication with dogs is a subset of how you communicate with humans. (Obviously it must be: you are a human, and therefore you are only capable of human things. So any communication with other species is a subset of what we're capable of.) But that doesn't mean the dogs can't also do other things. One obvious case is smell, which I assume you don't communicate with as effectively as dogs.
Whether it's a "language" may just be definitional, but it still seems complicated to me.
In the end, it seems that language is circularly defined as "human language", with open questions as to things like whether it's associated more with cognition or communication.

And still, why is there [assumed to be] a sharp distinction between the two categories? That's what puzzles me. I may agree with you that dogs don't have language, but I can't exactly express why in testable terms. (I do know they don't speak English or any other human language, though, but that's not very informative.)
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Offline panini

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Re: Man vs. Beast
« Reply #44 on: July 06, 2015, 06:13:59 PM »
Why are you assuming there is some purpose to language, and not just effects of language.
You're right, that is not literally true; I don't mean to imply that there is a purpose, I was simply harmonizing my wording with the statement that "language is a form of communication", which is also not literally true. Language is a cognitive system that can be used for all sorts of cognitive purposes.

I don't know of a definition of "communication" whereby not conveying information is communication, and the idea that language=communication is also controversial, thus we can't avoid controversy. Since cognition subsumes communication (and not vice versa), my claim is that the nature of language is broader than the popular "language is communication" position.
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In the end, it seems that language is circularly defined as "human language", with open questions as to things like whether it's associated more with cognition or communication.
I disagree with the premise that a definition is necessary. Take a natural term like "dog" – how do you define "dog"? You can say "Dog is defined as the things called 'dog'", which would indeed be circular, or you can semi-circularly define it as "canis familiaris" (which is defined as "dog"). Anybody can declare that they define a given term however they say they define it, so I can define "language" as a motor vehicle that gets at least 32 MPG. In ordinary use, "language" refers to the things that people speak, and doesn't refer to the noises that cats or cows make. I grant that there are sectors of the population which use "language" to refer to anything systematic, but we have the right to correct people when they make confused statements, whether they be about "the language of dance" or "the language of genetics", or weird ideas about "primitive languages".

I also don't see that it is an open question as to whether language is associated with cognition or communication -- I think it is uncontroversial that it is associated with both. Perhaps you mean something more specific than "associated with".