New animal communication books07 Apr 2012
Anthropologist Barbara J. King reviews two new books on animal communication in the Washington Post: “‘Calls Beyond Our Hearing: Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Hearing’ by Holly Merino and ‘The Song of the Ape : Understanding the Language of Chimpanzees’ by Andrew R. Halloran”.
Meaning-making, though, isnt necessarily language. Cetacean scientists in Canada remark that they can understand the vocal systems of beluga whales only by taking the animals cognition into account. But when Menino asks if the belugas are doing something like comprehending language, one scientist tells her flatly: Nope. Not like language. You dont even need to go there.
In Song of the Ape, Halloran, a primatologist, does go there. I . . . feel confident, he asserts, in granting language to chimpanzees.
Interesting that these books are coming out this year. I update my animal communication notes every time I teach Biology of Mind, and for the past few iterations there has been strikingly little change. There are many more details to learn about how communication functions in different social species, but most recent developments have been to broaden the scope of known animal communication by showing well-understood communication strategies in new lineages of animals. How these strategies evolve – often conversantly – in both neural and social terms, is a key frontier of knowledge.