Discussion Questions for Animal Communication, Apes, and Language
The video “The Mind:
shown in week 7, has a section the beginning
relevant to the communication systems of apes and a couple of relevant study questions,
repeated here for your convenience.
See key for week 7 discussion for answers.
1. (Week 8) What was the purpose of experiments such as those with Vicki, Washoe, and
2. (Week 8) How did Premack's experiments differ in focus from the ones mentioned in
In what two ways does Premack believe his experiments have shown
chimpanzees to be cognitively different from humans?
1. “Dr. Eugene Morton of the Smithsonian Institution has observed that regardless of the
species, low and harsh calls signal a sender’s aggressive tendencies, while sounds that are
high and tonal indicate the sender’s fearful or submissive state.
indicate intermediate tendencies.”
, Quarterly Magazine of the Greater Los
Angeles Zoo Association, Spring 1989, page 15)
Consider the sentence, “
Put the gun down
,” uttered by the following three individu-
als in the in the respective contexts:
(1) Clint Eastwood, who has the drop on a bad guy about to rob the unarmed stage coach passengers.
(2) A movie director telling an actor what he will do as the next action in a scene.
(3) A store clerk, ready to give the contents of the cash register to an armed robber.
(a) How would the most likely way these sentences might uttered relate to the quote
would probably say the phrase in his "Make my day!" voice. This corresponds to the
"low, sharp aggressive sound".
The movie director
would probably speak in a rather "neutral" voice. There would be no
emotion attached. This corresponds to the "intermediate sound".
The store clerk
would probably cry out with a high pitched voice, corresponding to the
fearful or submissive state.
These voice qualities appear to correspond to the characteristics of animal calls, but in
human communication, they can overlie the message itself, whereas in animal calls, the
specific vocalization would probably be tied to the voice quality type, e.g. a chimpanzee
could not choose to emit the
in a high loud pitch on one occasion and a low
agressive pitch on another.
(b) Relate the quote and your answer to (a) to Pinker’s notion of showing differences in
meaning using “analog” signals (
, page 342).
These "voice quality overlays" for language are analog in the sense that they could vary in
degree depending on level of emotion.
(c) Why could the differences illustrated in (1-3) not be used to argue that language is an
“analog” communication system?