Washoe and Lucy can speak Ameslan, the sign language of the deaf. Though journalist Linden reaches this conclusion, he does...

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APES, MEN, AND LANGUAGE

Washoe and Lucy can speak Ameslan, the sign language of the deaf. Though journalist Linden reaches this conclusion, he does not shy away from the heated disputations in the scientific community. In fact, the book concerns itself not with the cuteness of talking chimps, but with linguistic, ethological, and philosophic matters; at times it is heavy going. Drawing on the myriad contemporary theories of language -- Brown, Chomsky, Hockett, and others -- he puts the question: Is Washoe's language just an accumulation of learned responses? Or does it reveal a semantic and syntactic intelligence? To linguists who see ""displacement,"" ""symbolization,"" and ""reconstitution"" as essential properties of language, to those who see language as a ""factoring of environment,"" Linden responds with Hewe's view of language as a tool. Chimpanzees use other tools naturally; it is not inconceivable for them to use displacement, etc., in the same way. A key clue, says Linden, came when Washoe and Lucy, untaught, began to swear (""dirty""), to reverse word order correctly (subject and object), to express emotion (""Me cry""). and to ""think aloud."" This, says Linden, ""poses the greatest threat to the integrity of the Western vision of reality since Darwin."" He sees ""The Fall"" -- man's displacement from nature -- as rooted in language itself, and particularly symptomatic of Western, Platonic attitudes. Rather than finding continuity between man and animal -- as some cultures do -- we have tried to differentiate ourselves, ultimately from our own nature. Washoe will bring about a reassessment, eventually a new scientific ""paradigm"" (like Kuhn). Ethical questions re animal experimentation and vivisection will arise. Linden at times sounds intolerably apocalyptic. But his modesty -- he constantly stresses the need for more information -- and his erudite (but not recondite) criticisms of scientific and linguistic thinkers call for profound consideration.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 1974

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Saturday Review/Dutton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1974