Lecture Notes (weeks 2-3)
Semiotics. Animal Communication vs. Human Language.
1.0. Semiotics. The study of signs.
1.1. Sign and its Features
- it should be material;
- it should stand for something else;
- it serves as a means of communication
1.2. Sign and its parts
Signified A plant, having a [tri:] Signifier
trunk with leaves
A signifier is that part of a sign that stimulates at least one sense organ
of the receiver of a message. The signified component of the sign refers
to both the real world object it represents and its conceptual content.
1.3. Types of signs
Signs can be divided into three basic types, depending on: (1)
whether the signifier naturally resembles its referent, (2) whether
the signifier is directly linked with the referent being a partial or
representative sample of it, or (3) whether the signifier and referent
are arbitrarily associated.
- iconic signs;
- indexical signs;
- symbolic signs 2
1.4. Types of sign structure
- graded sign structure;
- discrete sign structure
1.5. The definition of Semiotics
2.0. Animal Communication
2.2. Vocal and non-vocal animal communication
- facial expressions
- most animal communication systems allow for up to 30 or 35
2.3. The Bees
- Forager bees display a remarkable system of communicating the
location, direction of the food source, its type and quality, its
distance from the hive;
- Structure and function of the round dance;
- Structure and function of the tail-wagging dance;
- Dialects in the communication systems of the bees;
- Interpretation of the results of the experiments
increases the accuracy of these activities.
inherit the dance patterns of the parents they resemble physically, just
as they inherit other genetic traits.
c) Individual bees raised in isolation from the hive function normally
whenthey are introduced to the hive for the first time. 3
d)Oneofthemostremarkableaspectsofthebee communication system is
that the successful forager bee who returns to dance is able to
indicate the direction to the source without having flown exactly that
same direction itself. Once a forager bee has located a profitable
source, it returns directly to the hive, where it must communicate the
reverse of its own return trip.
e) The bee dance is not arbitrary, it is a miniaturized
replication of actual flight path (iconic sign).
f) The bee dance is very restricted in the messages it can
transmit and in the detail it can give (only about food source).
g) The honeybee has a remarkably complex communication
system, especially for an organism with a brain the size of a
2.4. The Birds
- Two major classes of vocalizations : calls and songs;
- Calls: flight calls; specialized alarm call 'mobbing call'; specialized
alarm call `aerial predator call'
- Flight calls: a) before takeoff, b)during flight, c)before landing.
- Specialized alarmcall`aerialpredatorcall' (beginsgraduallyand
- Songs. Differentsongs establishterritoryandattract mates.
Acquisition of Calls and Songs
1) The birds recognize the distinctive calls of the parents and
they learn this inthetwoandahalftofourandahalfdaysbefore
hatching.Thecalls from the neighbours do not attract them.
typical song of their species).
3) Some birds like a male bullfinch learn the song. Investigators
reared ayoungbullfinchinacagewith acanary.In theSpringduring
Moreover, whenthe offsprings ofthis particular bullfinch matured
they all sang the canary song they learn from their father. 4
Recursion and birds
1) Recursion allows phrases to be embedded inside simple sentence
or add another phrase to the end of a given sentence.
2) Recursion, once thought to be the unique property of a human
3) Gary Marcus in his article “Startling Starlings”, arrived at the
conclusion that humans are not unique in their capacity to
recognize recursions (CC, p.38/1117).
4) “…the capacity to recognize recursion might be found only in
species that can acquire new patterns of vocalization, for
example songbirds, humans and perhaps some cetaceous.” (CC,
Parrots and Animal Language Research
1) Like primates, “…parrots live in societies in the wild and they
live long enough to make the time-consuming process of learning
worthwhile”. (CC, p. 50/103).
2) According to Dr. Pepperberg, her parrot Alex, by the end of his
life (after 30 years of learning human language) “…had the
intelligence of a five-year-old child and had not reached his full
potential. He had a vocabulary of 150 words. He knew the names
of 50 objects and could, in addition, describe their colours, shades
and the materials they were made from … he understood , and
could discuss ,the concepts “bigger”, “smaller”, “same” and
different… he could count up to six, including the number zero…”
3) Alex was able to “talk” and perform for anyone, not just for
Dr. Pepperberg. It means that no unconscious cues from his trainer
4) It is not clear whether “…Alex’s skills were the results rote
learning rather than abstract thought.” (CC, p.50/103).
- Interpretation of the data
a) Many birds develop dialects in the songs.
b) Like humans the birds have a special hemisphere of the brain
controlling the songs. 5
c) There is an interplay between innate and learned aspects:
general characteristics appear to be fixed biologically, whereas the
details of thesystemapp