Apetalk and whalespeak constitute, to Crail, the crowning evidence to date for the possibility of true interspecies...


APETALK & WHALESPEAK: The Quest for Interspecies Communication

Apetalk and whalespeak constitute, to Crail, the crowning evidence to date for the possibility of true interspecies communication (specifically, communication between humans and animals)--a term he uses broadly and inconsistently, sometimes seeing proof of the process in any exchange wherein one side (man, dog, horse, or dolphin) interprets the signals of the other. Crail presents dolphin man John Lilly in glowing terms, but tells us less of Lilly's work, with no greater third-person perspective, than do Lilly's own popular books. He is similarly laudatory toward early investigators of elephant brains, horse vocabulary, and typewriting dogs--but this company was covered with more style and better judgment in Emily Hahn's Look Who's Talking (1978). Craft devotes most of his attention, though, to interspecies communicators' chief hope, talking apes: citing the achievements of laboratory chimpanzees trained with computers, chips, and sign language--and dwelling at special adulatory length on Dr, Francine ""Penny"" Patterson whose sign-language conversations with gorillas Koko and Michael he considers the most impressive proof of animal language ability. Again, though, Patterson herself described this work more fully in last year's The Education of Koko; Crail's contribution is on the order of emotional support and petulant protest against Patterson's purportedly shabby treatment by Stanford University, her former sponsor. As for the ""defection"" of Herbert Terrace, who concludes in Nim (1979) that neither his nor any other talking ape experiments proved the existence of language ability, Crail maintains with some validity that Terrace's other time commitments and the appalling turnover of trainers made his a poorly run and unproductive experiment--but instead of refuting Terrace point for point, Craft questions his motives, attributing Terrace's change of mind to a sort of personal pique: Failing to get impressive positive results, says crail, he could only make a splash by emphasizing the negative and discrediting the positive results of others. The skeptical Thomas Sebeok, classed with Bronowski and Chomsky as ""dangerous professors,"" comes in for similar treatment. Crail's final chapters on ""whalespeak"" depart from the realm of scientific experiment to celebrate the more intuitive approach of those visionary outreachers who have established musical rapport with the mammals of the sea. Earlier, Crail praises Patterson for being a believer, not a dispassionate investigator, and that is surely the role he adopts here. Though scientific interest in apetalk and whalespeak seems to be waning, public enthusiasm remains, and a summary of all findings and efforts to date could be useful. However, even a believer might be better satisfied with a crisper presentation and more muted support.

Pub Date: May 1, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Tarcher--dist. by Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982