Seminar 1 : Week of Sept. 8
The word that I found on the online source, ‘Merriam- Webster’ was “Schwack.” This word is an adjective meaning a large amount. I also found the opposite of this new found word is “tiddle”. This word portrays the meaning of a small amount.
It is impressive in itself watching bees communicate merely by the ‘waggling’ of their bodies in order to tell other bees the exact angular distance available food is from the sun. However, could this really be considered language? Language, in a simple definition, is a system of communication and it seems as though bees have developed their own complex form of symbolic communication. However, language follows a set of guidelines as referred to in our lecture notes. Human language is multi-layered and all messages are divisible into a simpler form. The bee’s waggle dance lacks this type of distinct structure. When analyzing the waggle dance, you realise that it lacks syntax. Syntax is a set of rules that that inform of us of how we can combine words into sentences. The waggle dance does not combine words to make structured sentences, overall it lacks any type of phrase structure. The lecture stated that language was also a very complex system of symbols and rules used by a group of people. The bees waggle does not distinctly follow the structure and or content in which is required to be a language is comparison to humans. Additionally, the structure of their dance may portray nature and the movement of their body may just mimic the flight path taken to find the source of food. Therefore, this is not a distinct cognitive process. Lastly, this type of debate can relate to the question of nature vs. nurture. Bees are born with survival instincts and their dance is a natural process. On the other hand, complex human language is learned and is largely effected by modern trends and the immediate environment. Bees can only communicate about the direction of food and alert other bees of danger. However, they cannot communicate about other things such as what type of food is found in that area.
The issue regarding the complex communication of our closest primate, monkeys, is highly debatable. After reading the text from “Talking the Talk”, I found that most of the external critism towards the chimps and their trainers appeared to be agreeable. The critics first presented that the answers the chimps were able to make, were solely based on positive and negative feedback from the trainer. Ultimately, the chimp was trained to know what responses were appropriate at what time. This relates to the fact that operant conditioning may have taken place. Operant conditioning is a type of learning that is changed overtime due to rewards or consequences. I agree with these critique as even the body language or a smile could cause Kanzi to respond in a way that she knew she would be rewarded in return.
The critiques also suggested that the form of study was not accurate enough to serve as reliable data. For example, in the case of Washoe, we must consider that most words in ALS represent their meaning. For example, the word ‘give’ is represented with the motion of handing someone an object. Therefore, it is not necessarily cognitive output of words but instead, the mimicking of actions. Therefore, some of Washoe’s signs may have been not been thought through, but just a natural instinct or reaction. Personally, I believe that testing done regarding language with chimps cannot be compared with that of children. As a child’s language and syntax develops it is greatly influenced by their environment. These monkeys are tested in laboratories, in which they do not experience the outside world or learn modern language trends. Therefore, this type of testing cannot be appropriately compared to humans. Ultimately, how can we measure their language ability if we have no reliable source to compare it too?