The book approaches the language experiments with great apes performed in the last 50 years from the point of view of logical semantics, speech act theory, and philosophy of the social sciences based on the linguistic turn in philosophy. The author reconstructs the experiments with the great apes Washoe, Chantek, Lana, Sherman, Austin, Kanzi, Sarah and Sheba who were taught various kinds of languages, including the language of mathematics. From the point of view of the philosophy of science these experiments are interpreted as being part of the social sciences. The book proposes new mathematical experiments that are based on modern semantical reconstruction of the language of mathematics. The author shows that modern scientific research into great apes has shifted from natural science to social science.
6. What is Language?
6. What is Language?
The works of the experimenters involved in language experiments with great apes abound with hints as to the need to move to a semantic treatment of the notion of language and to the issues such a treatment should address. I mention here three such hints.
First, Premack noted that the language experiments with great apes faced the question, “What is language? On the basis of what properties do we identify a system as a language? … Linguists … did not address questions of this general kind” (Premack 1986, 4). And as to the discipline that should find answers to those questions he declared that “the animal language inquiry had more to gain from epistemology and philosophy of language than from linguistics. Reference, meaning, and truth are philosophical predicates, not linguistic. These predicates have the abstractness we are looking for” (1986, 8).
Second, from Premack’s conceptual triple reference-meaning-truth as the proper subject-matter of the discipline, he labeled “philosophy of language,” the first (reference) became the subject matter of special interest both for the AGSL and the YL projects in their later stages. So Savage-Rumbaugh declared the following (1981, 35):
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