ELOQUENT ANIMALS: A Study in Animal Communication by Flora Davis

ELOQUENT ANIMALS: A Study in Animal Communication

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KIRKUS REVIEW

How Chimps Lie, Whales Sing, and Slime Molds Pass the Message Along: a genial research investigation, replete with ""Then I saw"" and ""I was surprised"" comments, which reports on contemporary animal communication projects. Besides the better-known primate studies, Davis observes slime molds, fish, army ants, bees, crickets and frogs, birds, whales, and canines. These chapters effortlessly mix her personal responses during tours of the labs with more than a smattering of backstage data: in recounting the dance-of-the-bees controversy, for example, she conveys the difficulty of codifying bee signals and a hint of testy researchers as well. But Davis is also after bigger game: she's looking for a definition of Language, a Theory of Communication, and this search is less conclusive, in part because the cast of characters above has its missing links. Lower-animal communication may be learned or innate; some bird species will learn to sing in isolation, others won't. Apes can translate, conceptualize, and teach sign language to their offspring; discrediting those efforts as language may be, to paraphrase Roger Fouts, like faulting a Volkswagen for not being a Mercedes. Davis suggests ""perhaps we shouldn't be quite so wedded to the idea that thinking is words and that it's impossible to think without them,"" a sentiment many pet owners will echo. Like Inside Intuition, her 1973 book on nonverbal communication, an undemanding, instructive survey.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1978
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan