Hockett’s List and the Signature Characteristic Strategy
Charles Hockett, an American linguist writing in the 1960s, created a list of thirteen design features of the Human spoken language. Hockett asserted that only spoken human language adheres to all thirteen features. This list has enabled researchers to distinguish Human communication from that of animals, in order to establish whether a certain species has lingual abilities. This research method is most commonly referred to as the Signature Characteristic Strategy. In order to analyze the adequacy of this method, I will compare Honeybee and Human communication, with reference to Hockett’s list.
As Professor Anderson discussed in class, Honeybees communicate information about food sources, such as Nectar and Pollen, by using the Waggle Dance. The significance of this dance has been widely debated, but Karl Von Frisch was the first to undercover the meaning of the dance. The dance is used to determine the direction and distance of food sources: For example, if a bee dances in circles of ninety degrees, this means that the food is at ninety degrees from the sun. I will use the information we have learnt about the Waggle Dance, in order to decipher whether Honeybees have, or have the ability, to learn a language.
According to Hockett, the Honeybee Waggle Dance differs from Human communication because of a feature called traditional transmission. Tradition transmission refers to the fact that Human language has to be learned. Humans are not born with the innate ability to speak or understand speech, which is why they must learn to communicate through observation and practice. In this sense, Human beings are similar to songbirds: Songbirds learn their specific specie’s song when they are young, through imitating their elders and practicing. Honeybees, on the other hand, are born with the knowledge of how to perform the Waggle Dance, and therefore lack the feature of traditional transmission....
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