Interspecies communication, consciousness, and the cognitive verb gap*

			John Limber
			Department of Psychology
			University of New Hampshire, Durham NH 03824

KEYWORDS: interspecies communication, language acquisition, 
cognitive verbs, metacognition, language evolution

* Abstract of paper presented at "Toward a Science of Consciousness", 
University of Arizona, April 8-13, 1996.
There is a long history to human-animal communication in a 
"human-language based" (HLB) code.  This is reflected in the practical 
knowledge accumulated over thousands of years experience with 
domestic animals  and in recent scientific investigations (2).  Underlying this idea of a HLB code is that various species share certain concepts 
--most obviously of actions and objects--that can be the topics of 
interspecies communication.  While the direction of communication 
generally goes from human to other species, the flow can go the 
other way.   When my dog wants something in my control -- food, a 
bone, water, or to go out-- she makes her needs known using 
standard "mammalese."   Establish eye contact, whimper with 
laryngeal squeaks, touch me if necessary to get my attention.  Now 
that my attention is engaged, she expects me to articulate the limited 
possibilities and she will jump at the correct one.  Some organisms--
notably large apes but even birds-- when properly equipped or 
trained, can acquire control of specific HLB symbols that make their 
initiation of communication even more effective.  For much of HLB 
communication --like that with my dog-- little explicit training 
seems necessary; with varying amounts of interaction, they seem 
able to associate their mental states with the HLB code.
This paper looks at interspecies communication with the objective of 
illuminating our own species' use of language.   As with other 
biological processes like locomotion, there is a common substrate to 
cognition and communication across related species.  There are 
qualitative and quantitative gaps as well.  
Some years ago, in connection with reports about the "minds" of 
chimpanzees, I noted (Limber, 1977; 1978) the existence of a 
"Cognitive verb gap."  While all children begin to use cognitive verbs 
like "think" simultaneously with the appearance of syntactic 
language in their third year (Limber, 1973), no one claims that any 
chimps discourse on their own thoughts. Suppose we fully accept at 
face value both the claims about chimpanzees using human language, 
and the research suggesting varying degrees of mind and 
consciousness in those same primates.  We then --by hypothesis-- 
confront organisms that are thinking, conscious beings who do not 
talk about those processes or states of mind.   Conceivably an 
intermediate stage of mind-evolution, it is a curious situation since a 
common interpretation of these ape-language studies is that the HLB 
expressions map onto existing cognitive states.  Indeed, many believe 
this is true in the case of Homo sapiens as well.  Yet if this is true--
and these animals actually do think, guess,  and wonder--why don't 
they inform us about it in the same way they can signal us they want 
bones, tickles, or to go out?  What does this tell us about mind and 
language in child and chimp?  Several possibilities are considered in 
the course of tracing the ontogeny of the English verb "think" during 
the first four years: human cognition is qualitatively different from 
animals and/or human language acquisition is not a simple labeling 
of mental states.

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