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Part V: Is Man An Animal?
Man the Culture Maker
A FEW years
ago, it was held that in the assessment of the fossil remains
of man-like forms, the crucial question to ask was, Did these
creatures use tools or weapons? The use of such artifacts was
a kind of cultural Rubicon. If the answer was Yes, the
fossils were said to be human regardless of the morphology. The
crucial test in the minds of many physical and social anthropologists
was a cultural one, because it was held that man was the only
culture-creating animal, and tools and weapons are cultural artifacts.
Man the Toolmaker
Now, in this context, Culture is
defined as "learned behaviour" by contrast with the
patterned behaviour of animals in their natural state, which
is instinctive. This definition breaks down where birds have
learned, for example, to open milk bottles ‹ as they are
still doing in England ‹ which is clearly not instinctive
behaviour. But the definition is still essentially correct. Ruth
Benedict pointed out that an ant colony reduced to a few members
would automatically reconstruct its whole system of patterned
behaviour with virtually no loss, whereas the human race, similarly
reduced, would lose 99 percent of its culture. For ant behaviour
is instinctive, whereas human behaviour is learned. (121) Let us look at some of
these elements of culture which have been considered diagnostic
of true humanness and see to what extent these are really determinative.
Early in the
history of anthropology it had been claimed that the use of tools
was limited to Homo sapiens, but it soon became increasingly
apparent that a remarkable number of animals also used tools
of one kind or another, both of stone and of wood. It had been
known for a long time that birds used sticks to pry out insects
in cracks in
121 Benedict, Ruth, Patterns of Culture,
Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1958, p.12.
wood, but since birds
were never candidates as precursors of man, the fact was not
considered to conflict with proposed markers of humanness. One
of Darwin's finches, for example, uses cactus spines to pick
out insects in crevices in tree trunks. (122) It is also known that the burrowing wasp, Ammophila,
uses a small pebble as a hammer to pound down the soil over its
nest of eggs. (123)
But insects are not precursors of man either. More recently,
an Egyptian vulture, Neophron percnopterus, has been observed
to break open ostrich eggs by throwing a stone held in its beak
at the egg shell. (124)
The bird's aim is quite good.
But in some mammals even more complex
tool-using has been observed. For example, floating on its back
in the water, a sea otter will place a slab of rock fifteen or
twenty cm. in diameter, collected from the sea floor, on its
chest. Then, holding a small mollusk shell in both forepaws,
it repeatedly strikes it on the stone with full swings until
it is able to break it open. (125) Polar bears apparently have been reported using quite
large stones or blocks of ice as weapons. According to Reclus,
in an early issue of Nature (1883), J. Rae reported seeing
a polar bear Iying in wait on an elevated point for an unsuspecting
walrus or sea calf gambolling on the beach immediately below.
When one came within range, the polar bear hit it on the head
by aiming his weapon very skillfully. (126) Coming a little closer to man, morphologically speaking,
baboons are known to use natural implements such as stones or
sticks which happen to be at hand. (127)
It is therefore quite possible,
for example, that the Australopithecines with whose fossil remains
there was evidence of stone tools or weapons of a simple design,
usually referred to as
122. Darwin's finches: David Lack, "Darwin's
Finches," Scientific American, April, 1953, p.68.
pg.2 of 18
123. Burrowing wasps: Kenneth P. Oakley, "Skill as a Human
Possession" in A History of Technology, edited by
Charles Singer, E. J. Holmyard, A. R. Hall, Oxford University
Press, 1954, vol.1, p.2.
124. Vultures: Jane & Hugo van Lawick-Goodall, "Use
of Tools by Egyptian Vulture, Neophron percuepterus,"
Nature, Dec. 24, 1966, p.1468.
125. Sea-otter: Kenneth P. Oakley, "Skill as a Human Possession"
in A History of Technology, edited by Charles Singer,
E. J. Holmyard, A. R. Hall, Oxford University Press, 1954, vol.1,
126. Polar bears: Elie Reclus, Primitive Folk: Studies in
Comparative Ethnology,,Contemporary Science Series, Scott,
London, no date, p.17.
127 Baboons: on this see panel discussion on "Physical Anthropology
and the Biological Basis of Human Behaviour," in An Appraisal
of Anthropology Today, edited by Sol Tax and Charles Callender,
University of Chicago Press, 1953, p.263. An excellent study
has been published by Philip Street, Animal Weapons, MacGibbon
and Kee, London, 1971. See also on this, K. R. L. Hall, "Tool
Using Performances as Indicators of Behavioural Adaptability,"
in Human Evolution, edited by N. Korn and F. Thompson,
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 1967, p.128. Wilbert
H. Rusch ("Human Fossils," in Rock Strata and the
Bible Record, edited by Paul A. Zimmerman, Concordia, St.
Louis, 1970, p.149) mentions that chimpanzees may sometimes crush
leaves and use them as a sponge to soak up water from a cavity.
It has recently been argued that chimpanzees in the wild may
actually manufacture tools. But R. L. Holloway held that "the
fashioning of termiting sticks and other reported tool-making
activities on the part of chimpanzees do not represent the imposition
of arbitrary forms on the environment," by which is meant
actual creation of tools out of raw materials (see "Culture:
A Human Domain," Current Anthropology, vol.10, 1969,
could have been using these as baboons use stones and quite by
chance have fractured them so that they appear to have been consciously
worked whereas in fact the working of them might have been accidental.
On the other hand, it is also possible that these associated
simple weapons were manufactured deliberately by hunters for
whom the Australopithecines were the prey. Man may have killed
these apes for food or in self-defense, or in taking over their
Man the Firemaker
So the mere employment of tools
is not decisive. If birds by experience learn to use the right
kind of sharp instrument to flush out insects, deliberately choosing
this piece of wood and rejecting some other piece that is too
large, it is hard to see why an intelligent ape might not also
choose a piece of stone which already happened to have a cutting
edge. There is also some question in the minds of anthropologists
about the basis of judgment of a very simply worked flint in
determining whether it has accidentally come by its form or been
deliberately worked. Many of the eoliths found in France and
elsewhere by such early archaeologists as Lartet and others were
later rejected as purely accidental, though to a predisposed
eye they appeared convincing enough. (128)
So the issue has now been refined
a little, and humanness is not considered to be established merely
by the presence of tools, but only by determining whether the
tools are genuinely man-made. But there are times when this is
very difficult to do. Of course, tools with symmetry or complex
working are almost certainly man-made and not the work of other
primates below man. But, so equivocal can very simple tools be
in this regard that some authorities would attach very little
significance to them unless there is also evidence of fire. Thus
the search is made for other lasting evidences of the presence
of man, such as charred remains that signify the use of fire.
Coon held that "the use of fire is the only open-and-shut
difference between man and all other animals." (129) And there seemed little
likelihood of this being disputed.
The use of the
evidence of fire as proof of the presence of man is
128. Lartet: see A. S. Barnes in American
Anthropologist, vol.41, 1939, p.99; and more recently, Marcellin
Boule and Henri V. Vallois, Fossil Man, translated by
M. Bullock, Dryden Press, New York, 1957, pp.95-109, for a discussion.
At the time when the issue was a very live one, a paper entitled
"Eolithic Implements " illustrated with a number of
plates (some even in colour), was presented by R. A. Bullen,
which appeared in Transactions of the Victoria Institute,
vol.33, 1901, p.191-225.
129. Coon, C. S., The Story of Man, Knopf Press, New York,
not really confused by
the fact that we know now that animals may use fire just as they
use tools. For example, apes may go to a human hearth after its
native maker has left it and warm themselves by it. (130) Whether any ape has ever
thought to poke the fire to improve its heat output, is a moot
question. Negatively speaking, we do not have any record of a
dog, lying beside the fire in an English home, getting up and
putting another log on it to maintain it. And it seems even safer
to say that no animal ever deliberately lit a fire to keep warm
by. It seems clear, therefore, that the presence of a hearth
is absolute evidence of the presence of true man.
Man the Speechmaker
Nevertheless, the absence
of any evidence of fire is not unequivocal evidence of the absence
of man, since some primitive people, even in recent times, apparently
never learned or had forgotten how to make fire for themselves.
According to Radcliffe Brown, the Andaman Islanders did not make
fire when he studied them between 1906 and 1908, (131) and somewhat more recently
Patrick Putnam around 1940 found that the Pygmies of the Ituri
Forest could not make fire for themselves. (132) Almost certainly man alone makes fire, though man
is not alone in using fire.
therefore, to another aspect of culture which is considered to
be diagnostic, but even this proves to have its limitations for
prehistory. This is the use of language; and as Herskovits rightly
observed, "Language (is) the vehicle of culture." (133) One can nicely juxtapose
two observations by well-known authors here. Von Humboldt wrote,
"Man is man only by means of speech, but in order to invent
speech he must be man already." (134) One may couple this with the following statement
by A. L. Kroeber: "Culture, then, began when speech was
present, and from then on the enrichment of each meant the further
development of the other." (135) While some people use only the most primitive of
tools which, if found in isolation, would barely be recognized
as such, and while some whole tribes lack the ability to make
fire and must continue without it
130. Greene, John C., The Death of Adam,
Iowa State University Press, 1959, p.180.
131. Radcliffe Brown: quoted by Ashley Montagu, Man: His First
Million Years, Mentor Books, New York, 1958, p.158.
132. Patrick Putnam: quoted by C. S. Coon, A Reader in General
Anthropology, Holt, New York, 1948, p.327.
133. Herskovits, Melville, Man and His Works, Knopf, New
York, 1950, p.440 ff.
134. W. von Humholdt: quoted by Charles Lyell, The Antiquity
of Man, 4th edition, 1873, p.518.
135. Kroeber, A. L., Anthropology, Harcourt & Brace,
New York, 1948, p.225.
until they can obtain
it from some neighbour, no tribe or people has ever been known
which did not have a language. And, as it turns out, often the
more primitive the tribe, the more complex the language. (136) As a matter of fact,
in the light of present knowledge, it seems that language more
often proceeds from the complex to the simple and not in the
reverse direction. (137)
Thus we can say unequivocally that any creature that uses
speech to converse is clearly a human being.
But this raises two open questions.
The first is, Do animals actually have language, which we have
not recognized because we don't happen to speak in the same way?
Or to put it in another way, Is speaking a uniquely human
faculty? The second question is whether there is any way in which
we could tell for certain whether a particular fossil cranium
belonged to a speaking creature or a dumb one. Unless we can
tell this, the use of speech diagnostically for true man doesn't
help us in dealing with prehistory.
When Broca in 1865 discovered,
as a result of war wounds, that damage in a specific area of
the brain results in disturbance of speech, he "localized"
a speech area in the brain. As a consequence, it was hoped that
an endo-cranial cast of sufficient refinement should provide
evidence of the ability to speak or otherwise on the assumption
that the impression would adequately reflect the formal configuration
of the brain itself and thereby allow accurate assessment of
its potential by indicating the full development of this area.
There was confidence that such studies would give some evidence
of the owner's powers of speech. Added to this, it was believed
that a careful analysis of the inside of the jaw should provide
further confirmation of the adequacy and refinement of the tongue
muscles used in speaking. Between the two, it was felt that fairly
firm statements could be made: "This individual probably
had the power of speech, but this individual did not." Analysis
of many of the more famous fossil remains of early man or proto-man
was at once undertaken along these lines, and whether Neanderthal
Man or Cro-Magnon Man could speak or not was energetically discussed
at the time.
For example, the absence of a little
process of bone in the middle
136. A. L. Kroeber remarks in this connection,
"Dictionaries compiled by missionaries or philologists of
languages previously unwritten run to surprising figures. Thus
the number of words recorded in Klamath, the speech of a culturally
rude American Indian tribe, is 7,000; in Navaho, 11,000; in Zulu,
17,000; in Dakota, 19,000; in Maya, 20,000; in Nahuatl, 27,000.
It may safely be estimated that every existing language, no matter
how backward its speakers are in their general civilization,
possesses a vocabulary of at least 5,000 to 10,000 words. Kroeber
then adds this note(!): "Jesperson, who allows 20,000 words
to Shakespeare, and 8,000 to Milton, cites 26,000 as the vocabulary
of Swedish peasants" (Anthropology, Harcourt &
Brace, New York, 1948, p.225)
pg.5 of 18
137. Kluckholm, Clyde, Mirror for Man, McGraw-Hill, New
York, 1949, p.148, 149.
of the lower jaw
to which some of the muscles of the tongue are attached was believed
to prove that the Canstadt Race could not speak. Cro-Magnon Man,
however, was more advanced since he had this little process and
therefore could. We were taught this in university courses in
the early 1930s. It seemed to reinforce the validity of the usual
lineup of primitive men from ape-like to Homo sapiens.
What we, as students, did not know at that time was that the
whole idea had long since been shown to be without foundation.
By 1888, Sir William Dawson of McGill University had already
shown the fallacy of this argument. After consultation with Wesley
Mills, Professor of Anatomy in that university, he appended this
note at the appropriate place in one of his works dealing with
early man: (138)
Though the muscles attached
to the genial tubercles (the Genio-hyoid and Genio-hyo-glossi)
are the most important in the greater movements of the tongue
as when it is protruded from the mouth, yet many minor movements,
such as those concerned in speech, are possible in the absence
of the functional activities of these muscles.
The clearest evidence that the
tongue itself is neither the sole organ of speech nor even an
essential organ of speech, is derived from the fact that after
the removal of the tongue, as complete as may be, speech is so
far possible as to be intelligible though not perfect, the dentals
especially being indistinct; yet there is good utterance.
I myself, many years ago, followed
a case of excision of the tongue, and was surprised at the degree
of perfection of utterance attained even in a few weeks after
A comparison of even a few lower
jaws of man shows that these genial tubercles vary very much
in size, in some cases being but indifferently marked. . . .
So that, altogether, I should myself hesitate to infer that men
in whom these tubercles were absent had been without the power
of speech. . . .
Today, the point
is seldom, if ever, discussed. The argument simply has died for
lack of evidence. Even at the time of our course of lectures,
Wilson D. Wallis was reiterating that "the anatomist cannot
tell from an examination of the skull of modern man whether or
not the possessor had speech; much less from fossil skulls."
(139) Or more recently,
in 1948, Weidenreich wrote: (140)
The claim of paleo-anthropologists
to the effect that Neanderthal or Peking Man was right handed
or left handed, was able to speak, or write, or could only stammer,
all deduced from shallower and narrower, or deeper and broader
impressions on the inside of the brain case, have no scientific
basis. . . .
138. Dawson, Sir William, Modern Science
in Bible Land, Dawson and Brothers, Montreal, 1888, p.225,
139. Wallis, Wilson D., "The Structure of Prehistoric Man,"
in The Making of Man, edited by V. F. Calverton, Modern
Library, Random House, New York, 1931, p.65.
140. Weidenreich, Franz, "The Human Brain in the Light of
Its Phylogenetic Devlopment", Scientific Monthly,
Aug., 1948, p.107.
it is now known that man-like apes such as the chimpanzee are
not prevented from speaking because they lack the necessary tongue
muscles. They ought to be able to speak, if it is merely
a matter of these particular muscles. As early as 1916, W. H.
Furness, in attempting to teach articulate speech to both the
orangutan and chimpanzee, observed, "I found that the first
difficulty to be overcome is their lack of use of lips and tongue
in making their emotional cries. (141)
Now, there are several things that
must be said to qualify this observation And the crucial importance
of speech for man requires that we look at the subject a little
more carefully. In the first place, Furness would be the first
to agree that one cannot speak usefully of "teaching articulate
speech" in this context. For thus far the most elegant and
imaginative programs have only reinforced at every turn the fact
that non-human primates do not and probably cannot speak. They
can communicate in remarkable ways, as we shall see, but the
power of speech is not, apparently, within their reach. They
are dependent upon the use of signs, just as other animals have
elaborate means of communication by the use of signs, the only
difference with these primates being that they can evidently
be taught to use a large number of signs deliberately ‹ which
they would never use in their own natural environment ‹ in
order to communicate with man. But they do not speak,
apparently because they cannot speak. Let us look at the
A number of attempts have been
made over the past forty years to bring up a chimpanzee from
infancy in a home environment, treating it precisely as though
it were a member of the family, subjecting it to the same disciplines
as other children, the same encouragements, and as far as possible
the same stimuli. Every attempt was made to induce speech as
is normally made to induce speech in a human child. The best
known of these experiments were those made first by the Kelloggs
(142) (1933), by
the Hayeses (143)
(1951), by the Gardners (144) (1967), and finally by Premack (145) in 1969.
The Kelloggs named their chimpanzee
Gua. Essentially, for our
141. Furness, W. H., "Observations on
the Mentality of Chimpanzee and Orangutan," Proceedings
of the American Philosophical Society, vol.55, 1916, p.281-284.
On lip form see E. H. Lenneberg, Biological Foundations of
Language, Wiley, New York, 1967, especially pp.37-52.
142. Kellogg, W. N., and L. A. Kellogg, The Ape and the Child:
A Study in Environmental Influence on Early Behavior, McGraw-Hill,
New York, 1933, re-issued by Hafner.
143. Hayes, K. J., and Hayes, C., The Ape in Our House, Harper,
New York, 1951.
144. Gardner, R. A., and B. T. Gardner, reported in "Teaching
Sign Language to a Chimpanzee," in Science, vol.165,
145. Premack, David, "Language in Chimpanzee?" Science,
vol.172, 1971, p.808‹822.
purposes in this Paper,
their findings may be summed up by saying first that although
in the wild and when domesticated the chimpanzee may be very
vocal and give expression to a number of emotional cries when
angry, excited, or in need, it is a remarkably silent animal
otherwise. In an experimentally controlled environment in which
the home-raised chimpanzee is given the same linguistic and social
advantages as a human baby, the chimpanzee displays no evidence
of vocal imitation. Despite its generally high level of imitative
behaviour, it never spontaneously copies or reproduces human
word sounds. W. N. Kellogg noted that neither in their own previous
experiments, nor in those undertaken by R. M. Finch, nor in those
undertaken by N. Kohts (Moscow), was there the slightest evidence
of any attempt on the part of these animals to imitate speech
or to reproduce any human vocalizations: (146)
Moreover, no ape has ever been
known to go through the long period of babbling and prattling
which, in the human baby, seems to be the necessary prerequisite
to the subsequent articulation of word sounds. Vocalized play
of this sort was absent in (our) chimp, who made no sounds "without
some definite provocation which in most cases was obviously of
an emotional character."
The end result
of the Kelloggs' experiment was that they succeeded in getting
Gua to signal to them by sign language what she wanted. For example,
pushing away her cup meant "enough;" holding the genitalia
meant the need to go to the toilet; biting or chewing at the.
clothes or the fingers of the experimenter meant "hungry;"
removing the bib from her neck meant "finished eating;"
hanging on the hand of the experimenter meant "swing me;"
and so forth. Of speech, that is, the use of words for communication,
there was no evidence whatever.
The Hayeses had better success.
They were able to teach their chimpanzee, Vicki, to say mamma
by manipulating her lips as she said ah. It took a long
while to achieve this and she still persisted m putting her own
forefinger on her upper lip. Later the words papa, cup,
and possibly up were added to her repertoire. In 1916
Furness had, by a similar means, succeeded in training an ape
(this time an orangutan) to say papa and cup, also
by manipulating the lips.
The facial mobility of man has
often been remarked upon. It is quite tremendous. Few animals
can alter their features except to snarl. Chimpanzees have considerable
facial expression, but appearances may be deceiving. What looks
like a smile may not indicate
146. Kellogg, W. N., "Communication and
Language in the Home-Raised Chimpanzee", Science,
vol.162, 1968, p.424.
pg.8 of 18
pleasure at all. At any
rate, the effect of the muscles in the chimpanzee face may seem
to be similar to man's, but the functions of these muscles are
actually quite different. (147) The lack of adequate control of lip movement evidently
contributes to the chimpanzee's inability to mimic the sound
Kellogg summed up his impression
of the work of the Hayeses by saying: (148)
The most important finding of
the Hayeses was perhaps not that their chimp could enunciate
a few human sounds. It lay rather in the discovery that these
sound patterns were extremely hard for the ape to master, that
they never came naturally or easily, and that she had trouble
afterwards in keeping the patterns straight.
Of their own
experiments, Kellogg concluded that the chimpanzee could respond
correctly to a number of simple commands in spoken human language
and achieved this slightly ahead of a child of the same age.
But having done this, by the end of the first three years the
chimpanzee seemed to have reached its limit of learning capacity,
Just at a time when the child, which had been its companion began
to forge ahead at a tremendous speed. These simple commands were
such as the following: "no, no," "come here,"
"close the door, blow the horn," "don't put that
in your mouth," "go to daddy, go to mamma," "go
to Donald," and so on.
Two important conclusions emerge:
first, neither Gua nor Vicki learned to speak in the ordinary
sense (Vicki's four words were not really being used as words),
and secondly, the ape's mind can clearly discriminate the intent
of sentences in which the succession of sounds is distinguishable
and will respond to them ‹ such as go to daddy mamma,
or Donald. But understanding, not reproduction, is the
limit of achievement. A horse or a dog will also respond to commands.
The experiments of the Gardners
were much more sophisticated and clearly gained a great deal
from the experiments of their predecessors, the Kelloggs and
the Hayeses. In their report in Science,
147. Weinert, H., in An Appraisal of Anthropology
Today (edited by Sol Tax and Charles Callender, University
of Chicago Press, 1953) p.25. See also William Howells, Mankind
So Far, Doubleday, New York, 1944, p.79. R. J .Andrew has
a very helpful paper on this subject entitled, "Evolution
of Facial Expression." His title is odd in a way because
what he succeeds in doing, to my mind, is demonstrating clearly
that "facial expression" in man, even when it approximates
quite closely to that of apes or monkeys, conveys a completely
different message and is an expression of entirely different
inner feeling. Andrew's paper carries the blurbs "Many human
expressions can be traced back to reflex responses in primitive
primates and insectivores." But this is surely presumption.
If muscles serve an absolutely different function in so far as,
in his own showing, Andrew traces the human smile (an expression
of good will) to the animal's snarl (a preparation for battle),
can one properly speak of causal connections at all? ["Evolution
of Facial Expression", Science, vol.142, 1963, p.1034f]
148. Kellogg, W. N., "Communication and Language in the
Home-Raised Chimpanzee", Science, vol.162, 1968,
they pointed out that
although the Hayeses spared no effort to teach Vicki to make
speech sounds, she nevertheless succeeded in a period of six
years only in learning four that approximated English words.
They, too, noted that while the vocal apparatus of the chimpanzee
is very different from that of man, the vocal behaviour
of the chimpanzee is even more so: (149)
Chimpanzees do make many different
sounds, but generally vocalization occurs in situations of high
excitement and tends to be specific to the exciting situation.
Undisturbed, chimpanzees are usually silent.
The close tie
between vocalization (in the sense of giving voice) and emotion
is highly significant in dealing with the whole problem of the
origin of speech in man. The subject has been discussed in summary
fashion in another Doorway Paper, (150) to which the reader should refer for a more extended
bibliography. But the point at issue here is that linguists who
have concerned themselves with the problem of the origin of speech
agree upon this fact, that emotional cries are not the
foundation of man's speaking capacity, since emotion has precisely
the opposite effect. It tends rather to reduce him to a state
of speechlessness. The emotional exclamations, oh, ah,
etc., are involuntary (except when acted, of course), and they
have the characteristic brevity of all emotional cries. Cries
like, Help! are equally monosyllabic. Cries such as these do
not constitute speech: they are formalized signs of emotional
stress. In emotional language we usually use short words. The
feelings of the man who says to a girl "I love you"
are easily distinguished from those of the man who says, "I
have a tremendous admiration for you." The longer the word,
the less its emotional content as a rule; and the greater its
emotional content, the less does it reflect the true nature of
speech as a means of communication, particularly the communication
of ideas. Thus the very fact that these non-human primates (which
seem so responsive in other ways) nevertheless do not learn to
speak, seems to be closely related to the fact that vocalization
is for them an expression of emotion, not of thought.
For this reason, the Gardners adopted
the very sensible plan of using something akin to deaf and dumb
language which involves no vocalization at all but the use of
signs. The results of their experiment fully justify this approach.
Their experimental animal, whom they called Washoe, proved herself
an apt pupil. Within sixteen months, she had learned nineteen
signs reliably, with five more in process. By
149. Gardner, R. A. and B. T. Gardner, "Teaching
Sign Language to a Chimpanzee," Science, vol.165,
1969, p.664 .
150. Custance, Arthur, "Who Taught Adam to Speak?"
Part VI in Genesis and Early Man, vol.2 in The Doorway
the end of twenty-two
months, she understood and used twenty-eight signs in one day,
out of a total of thirty-four which she had learned. By the time
she was four years old, she had been taught to make reliable
responses to more than eighty different signs, though it is not
clear whether she actually used all these signs herself. Not
only did she make use of signs, but she was able to transfer
their value. For example, the sign for "open" she could
apply to the unlocking of a cupboard and then to the unlocking
of doors, and finally to the idea of turning the ignition key
in the car. Occasionally she "confused" the signs a
little, like flower with odour, and dog
with barking. But, as the Gardners put is, "Her signs
do not remain specific to their original referents but are transferred
spontaneously to new referents." (151)
While I think that we are forced
by these results to recognize that part of our problem in accurately
assessing the animal mind lies in our inadequate means of communication
with them, we must not -- for all our surprise ‹ over-estimate
the animal mind nor under-estimate the fundamental difference
between animal mind and human mind. In Washoe's case the response
was always situational. The signs that were adopted and used
by Washoe had to do with, and were used in connection with, personal
needs, not with the needs of others. Nor were they used in connection
with unrealities, abstract concepts, things merely of interest
for conversation, hypothetical things. Conceptual language was
not involved. Nor were the signs structured consistently into
sentences in such a way as to indicate an awareness of grammatical
principles. A child becomes aware of grammar by some unconscious
process, and untaught. One can observe this in delightful ways
in children, if one is careful. Last summer a little friend of
ours, who is about three years old, was talking to me as I climbed
out of my car, and suddenly noticed a dead grasshopper at his
feet. He looked at it for a moment, and then he said reflectively,
"Somebody deaded it." He had learned the difference
in meaning between an adjective and a verb, between "dead"
and "deaded." He created the verb for himself, quite
correctly ‹ though uncommonly. There is no doubt that no
one had taught him to do this.
In his review of E. H. Lenneberg's
Biological Foundations of Language E. A. Weinstein notes
that in children there is a normal order of the development of
vocalization from crying to cooing, and then to babbling. (152) Single words appear between
the ages of twelve to eighteen months, followed by two-word combinations
151. Gardner, R. A. and B. T. Gardner, "Teaching
Sign Language to a Chimpanzee," Science, vol.165,
pg.11 of 18
152. Weinstein, E. A., reviewing E. H. Lenneberg, Biological
Foundations, Science, vol.156, 1967, p.1585.
not random compositions,
but constitute a primitive subject predicate organization. They
are not imitations of adult speech, but indicate that certain
rules of grammar have been acquired." Even in brain-injured,
deaf, and otherwise handicapped children, though the rate of
language learning is slowed down, nevertheless the same order
In other words, Washoe never put
her signs together to reconstruct a sentence. Neither did she
invent words. There was no grammar involved. Yet it is grammar
that converts a series of sounds into a form of speech. Furthermore,
the use of signs was always immediately contingent upon circumstance.
There was no delay. Man can sit and think over a situation, take
it apart, analyze it into components each of which he can label
separately, and then he can reconstitute reality and give it
expression verbally in a sentence in which the very organization
of the components conveys his understanding. As the Gardners
put it, in Washoe's case, there was no "disengagement from
the immediate context."
The Gardners achieved their success
by adopting a means of communication which did not require Washoe
to speak, that is, to attempt the vocalization of words. In commenting
on their work, I think David McNeil of the University of Chicago
summed things up very nicely when he said: (153)
The Gardner's ape is fascinating,
but the few examples of her "speech" that I have seen
appear to be quite different from the speech of young children.
The structural arrangement, if there is any, looks unlike anything
that occurs in the development of language.
Using the same
principle of signs developed by the Gardners, a still more sophisticated
series of experiments was conducted by David Premack and reported
under the title, "Language in Chimpanzee?" (154) Premack's program was
carried out with an African-born female chimpanzee whom he named
Sarah. She was six years old when the study began, a fact which
suggests that it may not be altogether true that man's greater
learning capacity is due to the much longer period during which
man is anatomically and physiologically still plastic, although
the experience of the Kelloggs did suggest that some measure
of "fixity" began to take place in their subject at
about three years of age.
Premack's experiments seem to have
been even more elaborate than those of his predecessors'. In
some ways they force us to credit
153. David McNeil: in a discussion following
his paper "Empiricist and nativist theories of language:
George Berkeley and Samuel Bailey in the 20th century" at
the Alpbach Symposium, in Beyond Reductionism, edited
by Arthur Koestler and J. N. Smythies, Hutchinson, London, 1969,
154. Premack, David, "Lamguage in Chimpanzee?" Science,
vol.172, 1971, p.808-822.
the chimpanzee's mind
with even greater potential for communication by such means,
because there was evidence of the ability to understand at least
something of the meaning of sentence structure, the concept
of class relative to objects, the meaning of the copula (is),
of pluralization, of logical connections (if ‹ then), of
the conjunction "and" and in a rudimentary way the
meaning of symbolization. With respect to this last, Premack
rightly asks the question whether it is possible to teach an
organism the meaning of symbolization if it does not already
symbolize in its own mind. He felt that the training procedures
he used were not teaching symbolization, but must have been utilizing
a capacity the animal already possessed. Who knows, therefore,
what really goes on in the mind of such an animal?
Several of his findings confirm,
or seem to me to confirm, previous observations. For example,
Premack could not induce Sarah to structure a sentence which
was directed altruistically, unless he rewarded her very specifically.
(155) Thus she
would put down the symbols in the right order for, say, "Mary
give Sarah apple," but she was reluctant to put down, "Mary
give Gussie [another person familiar to Sarah] apple." She
would only do it when she was rewarded with a tidbit she preferred
in exchange for the right answer. She could not be sufficiently
motivated by a situation which did not reward her personally.
It should not be thought, however, that in Nature animals never
act altruistically. (156) They do, not only in parent-child relationships,
but in fellow creature relationships.
It should be borne in mind that
Sarah still did not speak, did not verbalize. She merely manipulated
plastic symbols, as a child manipulates alphabet blocks. But
she did manipulate them in quite sophisticated ways.
In a study of the vocal tract limitation
of non-human primates, Philip H. Lieberman et al, (157) concluded that the inability
of apes to mimic human speech results from the inherent limitations
of their vocal mechanisms. It is conceivable that they have something
to say, "but they have no way of saying it. "The human
155. Ibid., pp.808-810.
156. For examples, see Arthur Custance, "The Survival of
the Unfit," Part IV in Evolution or Creation?, vol.4
in The Doorway Papaers Series.
157. Lieberman, P. H.; D. H. Klatt and W. H. Wilson, "Vocal
Tract Limitations on the Vocal Repertoires of Rhesus Monkeys
and Other Non-Human Primates," Science, vol.164,
1969, p.1187. Another study of the organs of speech has been
published: J. Wind, On the Phylogeny and the Ontogeny of the
Human Larynx: a Morphological and Functional Study, Groningen,
the Netherlands, 1970. In reviewing this [Science, vol.173,
1971, p.414], R. O'Rahilly notes the author concludes that "no
satisfactory explanation of speech emergence has yet been given."
mechanism should thus
be viewed as part of man's species-specific endowment."
Somewhere in the total constitution
of man's mind, there appears to be a capacity for the use of
symbols which, coupled with his appropriately designed organs
of speech, allows him to manipulate his understanding of reality
and to discuss it intelligibly with his own kind. It now appears,
therefore, that it is man's combined capacities, capacities involving
the nature of his mind and his anatomy working together which
allow him to acquire and sustain speech and, through speech,
to enhance his powers of understanding and communication. So
he compounds the fruits of his learning and enormously multiplies
his cultural wealth. Somewhere in the process of socialization,
self-awareness arises and with it self-evaluation, the ability
to assess and judge the actions and motives, in others and in
And so the way is opened for him to become, by reason of the
divinely implanted spiritual component in his nature, a morally
Thus although tremendous advances
have been made in our understanding of the potential for communication
in animals below man, the work of the Kelloggs, the Hayeses,
the Gardners, and now Premack, with chimpanzees, has underscored
the fact that speech, the use of the spoken word, is a unique
human faculty. The means of communication between animals are
much more varied, it seems, than in man, but far less pregnant
with potential. Bees use a language of movement. (160) Fishes use a chemical
one. (16l) Mutual
recognition between birds is based on sound as well as visual
cues. (162) It
has even been found recently that unborn chicks, still in their
shells, communicate with each other by clicks and other vocal
sounds which have been tape-recorded. (163) Bats, of course, signal to one another in
158.On this see also G. G. Simpson (Biology
and Man, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1969, p.116:
"Perhaps we can at least determine when language arose by
tracing the anatomical evolution of the vocal apparatus? That
line is even now being followed seriously by some anatomists,
but I think they are astray. A human brain in a monkey's body
would probably mispronounce English words, but it would certainly
produce a language" [my emphasis]. The point is well
taken and underscores the fact that unless the brain is human,
true language will not emerge whether the organs of speech
are appropriate or not: and conversely, if the brain is human,
language will emerge under the right social conditions even when
the organs of speech are faulty. Even the anatomically dumb can
159. Mead, George Herbert, Mind, Self and Society, University
of Chicago Press, 1948.
160. Bees: Carl von Frisch's justly famous Dance Language
and Orientation of Bees has been republished in a translation
by L. E. Chadwick, Harvard University Press, 1968, xiv and 566
161. Fishes: John H. Todd, "The Chemical Language of Fishes,"
Scientific American, May, 1971, pp.98 ff.
162. Birds: W. H. Thorpe, "Perceptual Basis for Group Organization
in Social Vertebrates, Especially Birds," Nature,
October 12, 1968, pp.124-128.
163. Unhatched chicks: Margaret A. Vince of Cambridge, in Britannica
Book of the Year, 1971, under the heading "Biological
frequencies beyond the
hearing range of the human ear. So animal means of communication
are varied indeed. One of the most useful collections of data
on the use of signs by animals was produced by Dietrich Burkhardt,
Wolfgang Schleidt, and Helmut Altner in Signals in the Animal
If evolution were a fact, it seems
as though it must have somehow miscued by dividing the potential
of living creatures in such a way as to reduce the likelihood
of their developing the capacity to speak. What I have
in mind is the fact that in one class of animals, the birds,
we find the combination of erect posture, vocal organs which
allow for song, and ‹ even more importantly ‹ the ability
to imitate a substantial number of words and sentences ‹
as seen in parrots and other bird species. But the ability to
communicate by the use of deliberately chosen signs, such as
can be acquired by some of the non-human primates, appears to
be lacking. They thus have the ability to speak, but have nothing
to say. By contrast, evolution has produced (supposedly) another
class of animals, represented by chimpanzees, which, while they
can manifestly learn to communicate with man in a sign language,
are evidently not equipped anatomically for speech. They are
quite unable to vocalize words as some of the birds are able
to do. They thus may possibly have something to say, but can't
say it. This seems like a misdirected distribution of capabilities,
for we therefore have in one line of development the necessary
mechanism for the sounding of words which can only be meaningless;
and in an entirely different line of development the mechanism
for giving meaning to words which can't be said. In short, only
in man do we find these two capabilities united; along with an
erect posture that makes conversation easy and natural face to
face, coupled with a manipulative skill in the hands, providing
a unique extension of the mind, and a means of considerable reinforcement
to verbal expression.
Although many contributory factors
in the anatomy of man are obviously involved, nevertheless it
seems pretty clear that the prime source of uniqueness, the seat
of ultimate superiority, lies in his mind. Whether mind and brain
can be related, as we have for the most part imagined them to
be, does not seem to be as clearly demonstrated today as it seemed
to be a few years ago. In some way, the whole man appears to
be alive with man-soul. Yet it is simpler and more convenient,
perhaps, for purposes of discussion to accept for the moment
the idea that "mind" is at the root of it all, and
164. Burkhardt, Dietrich, et al., translated
by Kenneth Morgan, Allen and Unwin, London,1967, 150 pages.
putting the mind
in quote marks I want to leave it as an open question whether
the mind of man encompasses both his intellect and his spirit.
One thing seems reasonably certain that if we allow the quality
of his mind to stand as representative of his humanness, then
the mind of man is not the same as the mind of an animal, and
therefore he himself is not the same as an animal ‹ despite
all appearances. In part this is recognized by many writers.
Years ago, Briffault observed: (165)
Between the mental constitution
of the rudest savages and that of any animal, including the anthropoids,
there is a wide gap, and that gap consists of more than a difference
in degree; it amounts to a difference in kind. Primarily that
difference depends upon the conceptual character of human mentality.
of human mentality: what does it mean? It means man's ability
to create mental images which are not bound to the realities
which impinge upon his senses. He can dream of things which do
not yet exist: he can imagine situations which are contrary to
fact. He can, indeed, tell lies usefully. The early Church Fathers
recognized this as one of the special characteristics of man.
They pointed out that animals cannot tell lies (though they can,
of course, be deceived) and God would not tell lies. Man does.
He will speak of negative numbers or of decimals ‹ parts
of numbers. He will speak of ten days which never exist at one
time, or (in statistics) of the average family as being composed
of 3.6 people. Thus he can do impossible things with his mind.
His speech is propositional, he can discuss hypotheses and play
with his ideas until he invents new things and achieves new understandings.
His ability to verbalize allows him to talk about what is contrary
to fact and thus often bring to pass things which enormously
extend his dominion over the earth ‹ and even beyond the
earth. Some years ago in thinking about these things, Henri Bergson
The impression arises when we
compare the brain of man and that of animals that the difference
at first appears to be only a difference in size and complexity.
But judging by function, there must be something else besides.
. . Between man and the animals the difference is no longer
one of degree but of kind.
All of history
confirms this judgment. The difference is absolute, even though
there are enough parallels to make it virtually impossible
165. Briffault, Robert, "Evolution of
Human Species," in The Making of Man, edited by V.
F. Calverton, Modern Library, Random House, New York, p.762.
pg.16 of 18
166. Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution, Modern Library,
Random House, New York, 1944, pp.200, 201.
to quantify the difference
when its substance is dissected. It is the potential which really
clinches the matter.
We begin to
see, therefore, something fundamentally new in man, which is
not merely the result of the addition of new capacities but seems
to arise from a whole new dimension that is somehow in the mind
and yet not of it. The whole increasingly becomes more than merely
the sum of the parts. Everything about this creature, Homo
sapiens, is of a piece, each part uniquely contributing.
The specialized hands and their nervous connections with an area
of the brain seems designedly to be juxtaposed against the centres
of speech and motor control of the tongue and voice box, and
the receptive areas of hearing and seeing. There is design here,
optimization of the system as a whole, not for the survival
of the organism (though this is necessary), but for the elaboration
of the life of the organism beyond mere survival and often, in
fact, to its very endangerment.
Compared with other creatures,
man seems constantly at a disadvantage, yet he can dominate them
all. Taken singly, his hearing and his seeing are less acute
than theirs, his sense of taste and smell are less refined, the
speed of reaction of his reflexes and the strength of his muscles
cannot compare, his resistance to disease and his powers of recovery
from wounds are lower, his rate of reaching maturity and independence
in infancy, and even his achievement of "social wisdom"
are slower ‹ all these, individually, fall far behind the
faculties, abilities, and processes in other animals. It seems,
superficially, that none of these have been maximized in man
relatively speaking, and some of them, important as they are
to animals, seem to be almost rudimentary in him.
Yet in some remarkable way, the
total configuration of strength and weakness seem to contribute
to rather than detract from his potential for greater things,
for a higher position, for greater responsibility, for an entirely
new kind of self-realization. His very weaknesses seem to fit
him uniquely for fellowship with God.
Now we have already considered
some of these more obvious specific qualifications which contribute
manifestly to his superiority. Let us now look at some of those
which by contrast would superficially seem to be a handicap to
him ‹ though in point of fact, they are not. Let us examine
the significance for man of his slowness in reaching physical
maturity and his long dependency in childhood, the role of the
male in the human family, his progressive complexification of
his social relationships, his ability to achieve personal
individuation, the factors
governing breeding in animals and in man, his dietary lack of
wisdom, his susceptibility to disease and slowness in healing,
his strange drive to order, arrange, and organize, and finally
his willingness to sacrifice the temporal for the transcendental
and his need for and capacity for redemption. In all these things,
as we shall see, man stands apart by himself.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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