Is Language a Form of Animal Communication, or Something Different? Implications for Ecological Identities


For many, saying humans are animals is an uncontroversial truism. It follows that human communication systems, including language, are animal communication systems. The reality, however, is more complicated. Some linguists, for instance, describe language as categorically distinct from, rather than as a unique or rare form of, animal communication (e.g. language vs animal communication rather than language vs other forms of animal communication). This could be a product of, for example, descriptive imprecision, merely repeating a conventional formulation, or of explicitly endorsing a philosophical view that humans are nonanimals. I argue that, regardless of motivation, such descriptions of the language / animal communication relationship can reify an ideology of human exceptionalism in ways that are both scientifically suspect and ecosophically problematic (Stibbe, 2015). To make this argument, this presentation will be structured in the following manner: A) I will define my use of terms such as human exceptionalism, explain the postulates—such as 'humans are animals'—from which I will reason, and describe the argument's normative ecosophy which is rooted in ecological animalism (Plumwood, 2003); B) I will discuss how the discipline of linguistics and certain claims of the radical uniqueness of human language have previously been critiqued as being vehicles for an ideology of human exceptionalism, and where my critique linking different framings of the language / animal communication relationship to different ecological ideologies differs from prior critiques; and C) I will conclude by explaining why linguists should care about how the relationship of human language and animal communication is framed.

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Michael Brown, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACERP2020
Stream: Philosophy - Linguistics

This paper is part of the ACERP2020 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Brown M. (2020) Is Language a Form of Animal Communication, or Something Different? Implications for Ecological Identities ISSN: 2187-476X – The Asian Conference on Ethics, Religion & Philosophy 2020 Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon