Animal Thought (International Library of Psychology) by Stephen Walker

By Stephen Walker

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Although the ability to make ‘gesture-signs’, and other aspects of animal intelligence, are taken as support for the theory that human mental abilities evolved gradually, Romanes is quite clear that human speech differs radically from animal sign-making. For one thing, ‘gesture language has no grammar’ (1888, p. 114). In the postChomskyan era, this is a familiar point. Romanes’s discussion of the abstractions underlying grammar may now seem rather primitive, but he should be credited with the attempt to pin down exactly what it is about human speech which is significantly different from animal gestures.

The simplest examples are the elaborate vocalisations and bodily decorations of male birds. These may be of no use in negotiating the conditions of life, but are ‘essential to individuals if they are to attract females. It goes without saying that special-purpose instincts are as necessary as bodily accoutrements for competition, courtship, mating and parental care. Darwin’s own treatment of sexual selection is exhaustive and complex, and the subject is now part of the domain of mathematical model’s in theoretical genetics.

He is against 54 intentionally neglecting the weak and helpless, but hopes that they will not marry so freely as the sound, since ‘excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed’ (190 1, p. 206).

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