But what's this about whether chimps are doing HUMAN LANGUAGE, meaning the production of formal rules? Is that really what researchers are looking for? If so, it's ridiculous on the face of it. Are the symbolic systems which the chimps are taught in any way equivalent to the dynamic language/culture complexes we call A HUMAN LANGUAGE? No. They're not used by their researchers, for instance, for their daily talk, for thinking in and reporting the thinking in, etc. These symbolic systems are constructed by individuals for something other than cultural talk among adult humans, just as surely as was Klingon.
And HOW were they constructed? Using lots of nouns and overt copulas for the most part (and excluding ASL). But this just shows the IE-centric, or nomininophili-centric, bias going into the experiment--the "already listening" of the researchers, not knowing there might be alternatives at this level which might elicit better results.
Take, for instance, the possibility of human languages that have no overt copula and its speakers can "talk all day and never utter a single noun" (see Whorf, LTR, p. 243, English vs. Nootka, where we have 3 NPs and one verb in English, vs. 3 verbs and lots of infixes for Nootka).
No chimp experiments that I know of have constructed a symbolic system around an affix and verb-only scheme. And look at it this way: We all agree that Native Americans are as a whole closer to Nature than we are. So if we allow the possibility that their languages are also closer to Nature, their verby perceptions may be closer to that of chimps as well, and something based on such a scheme might have surprising results--just as in experiments where chimps are taught ASL instead of tokens or buttons.
It seems to me that it takes a lateralized left-hemisphere for us to be able to articulate 10 times faster than other animals and to be able to produce the amazing syntactic gyrations we do in formal stranger-talk. But that's not what we're looking for in the chimp experiments, is it? Looking to see whether chimps with unlateralized cortexes can do what a human's lateralized left-hemisphere can? That would be silly.
What are we looking for, then--something more like what our young children can do? But Larry Trask [previous communication on another list] and many others argue that this level, whatever it might be called, no longer fits the criteria of (FORMAL) HUMAN LANGUAGE, calling this PROTO-LANGUAGE (or,expanding it, PROTO-HUMAN-LANGUAGE). So we're not looking to see whether chimps have (HUMAN) LANGUAGE at all, but whether they have PROTO-(HUMAN)-LANGUAGE.
So if there is agreement among linguists that kids who cannot yet produce the dialect (or register, etc.) of formal stranger-talk are not yet speaking HUMAN LANGUAGE, then there is an agreement about what HUMAN LANGUAGE is, based on the production of form.
But HUMAN LANGUAGE users always comprehend far more than they can produce. Is this true of chimps? You betcha! Just watch Kanzi in the kitchen with Sue Savage-Rumbaugh to see complete comprehension of things Sue was telling Kanzi to do in what we call "simple English," a nice alternative to PROTO-(HUMAN)-LANGUAGE: Take this potato over to the sink and wash it; you forgot to turn the water off, etc. And were these "just words"? NO! There were emotional tunes flowing through the words, animating them for comprehension; there were gestures incorporated as an integral part of the speaking as well, adding to the comprehension by Kanzi, just as with our own children. Sue counts on Kanzi understanding emotions and bodily gestures and facial expressions, probably because we share evolutionarily similar brains to a point. Emotions and gestures can either reinforce or substantially change the intended and perceived meaning, as when "He's a swell guy!" is said sarcastically or followed by a finger circling around the side of the head indicating "crazy." In our daily lives we depend on these simultaneous meaning forms WHICH DO NOT SHOW UP IN NORMAL WRITING to get the "correct" meaning.
But we exclude these crucial meaning forms, mostly, in linguistics, in favor of production of verbal forms. I conclude that this discipline's current definition of HUMAN LANGUAGE is unbalanced--that it favor form over meaning instead of achieving a more harmonious balance. The same meaning systems which are excluded for our children, emotional tunes and body language, similarly exclude chimps and other animals from having LANGUAGE.
A more balanced approach, admittedly ecological and transpersonal, would say that LANGUAGE is a balancing of meaning and form, showing up in body language, in the language of emotional noises/tunes, in the simplified and often idiomatic language we use with friends, children and pets, and finally in the more formal structures reserved for stranger-talk. All four of them together, for me, characterize the fullness of HUMAN LANGUAGE or even A HUMAN LANGUAGE, while chimps and kids have only the first three languages, not the formal; reptiles only have the first one, etc.
Finally, in this way LANGUAGE is no longer shorthand for HUMAN LANGUAGE, the latter actually being a composite of four LANGUAGES; LANGUAGE is instead shorthand for LANGUAGE/CULTURE DYNAMIC, healing the Chomskyan division between language and culture (where culture was then thrown away to make language autonomous). Even snakes have a culture of body language, "knowing" what certain postures "mean"--a form/meaning system. We do too--it's just that this and other levels cannot be judged syntactically by the kind of syntax used on the formal level; each level obeys its own kind of syntax, which we must discover.
Right now, as a species, we are committing linguicide and ecocide on our Earth Mother. The same actions which rape the land and gobble up rain forests destroy that which supported words and stories in indigenous languages there. We have a chance to redefine LANGUAGE in a way that is inclusive of other life on Earth, perhaps healing an even older division between us and our animal ancestors.
Will linguistics ever turn green--or stay colorless, sleeping furiously?
warm regards, moonhawk