Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Advances in Language Study

Often I am reminded of the damage being done to people's awareness by some of our colleges and universities. Ridiculous ideas like, animals are mere biological machines (Descartes), animals' actions are merely conditioned reflexes (Skinner), and language appears to be a uniquely human phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world (Chomsky) are religiously clung to and promoted, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary available to any true observer.

Fortunately, there are people who are willing to observe and learn.

starlingA study of starlings, led by Timothy Gentner of the University of California (San Diego), shows that these birds not only have a language of their own, this language includes complicated sentence structure. Although the scientists did not actually decipher the birds' language, they created an artificual grammar from recorded starling songs and found that the birds were able to understand what is called recursive sentence structure, such as changing "the bird sang" to "the bird the cat chased sang".

From the article on the UCSD web site:
Gentner says, "The more closely we understand what nonhuman animals are capable of, the richer our world becomes. Fifty years ago, it was taboo to even talk about animal cognition. Now, there are [TV shows] on the subject and no one doubts that animals have complex and vibrant mental lives. This study is a powerful statement about what even birds can do: Look at what they’re learning."
I'm glad that Gentner can believe that "no one doubts" these things. I wish that philosophy were true in all schools.

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