By Stephen Walker
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163). The unique ability of man ‘consists in his being able to mean a proposition’ (p. 164, original italics). In other words, the essential feature of human speech is the sentence, or ideas expressed as relations between words, most simply as connections between subjects, objects and verbs. In all of Romanes’s 51 anecdotes, there were none which suggested that dogs, apes, or parrots communicated in this way, although he quotes cases of dogs appearing to understand sentences such as ‘the sheep are in the potatoes’.
Reason is bracketed with the recognition of persons, and association by similarity, and is identified with the higher Crustacea (lobsters) and a child of 14 weeks. Communication of ideas is seen in the social insects (ants and bees) ; understanding of words and dreaming both appear in birds (parrots having been reported to talk in their sleep); and the distinctiveness of mammals starts at the understanding of mechanisms (cows being particularly adept at unlocking gates). The highest level of intellectual development is rather oddly ‘indefinite morality’, observed in anthropoid apes and dogs.
One may wonder if Darwin was led into strangely unsound speculation by the musical evenings and protracted engagements of middle- class Victorians, but his arguments are based on a characteristically thorough examination of the biological evidence. Sounds are used throughout the animal kingdom for emotional expression and social communication and ‘a strong case can be made out that the vocal organs were primarily used and perfected in relation to the propagation of the species’. The case applies pre-eminently to bird song, but there are many exceedingly vocal species of monkey, and several type’s of gibbon (‘lesser apes’) have a social organisation based on neighbouring nuclear families, and are strong singers.
Animal Thought by Stephen Walker