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Exorcising Grice's ghost: an empirical approach to studying intentional communication in animals


Abstract

Language's intentional nature has been highlighted as a crucial feature distinguishing it from other communication systems. Specifically, language is often thought to depend on highly structured intentional action and mutual mindreading by a communicator and recipient. Whilst similar abilities in animals can shed light on the evolution of intentionality, they remain challenging to detect unambiguously. We revisit animal intentional communication and suggest that progress in identifying analogous capacities has been complicated by (i) the assumption that intentional (that is, voluntary) production of communicative acts requires mental-state attribution, and (ii) variation in approaches investigating communication across sensory modalities. To move forward, we argue that a framework fusing research across modalities and species is required. We structure intentional communication into a series of requirements, each of which can be operationalised, investigated empirically, and must be met for purposive, intentionally communicative acts to be demonstrated. Our unified approach helps elucidate the distribution of animal intentional communication and subsequently serves to clarify what is meant by attributions of intentional communication in animals and humans.

Abstract

Language's intentional nature has been highlighted as a crucial feature distinguishing it from other communication systems. Specifically, language is often thought to depend on highly structured intentional action and mutual mindreading by a communicator and recipient. Whilst similar abilities in animals can shed light on the evolution of intentionality, they remain challenging to detect unambiguously. We revisit animal intentional communication and suggest that progress in identifying analogous capacities has been complicated by (i) the assumption that intentional (that is, voluntary) production of communicative acts requires mental-state attribution, and (ii) variation in approaches investigating communication across sensory modalities. To move forward, we argue that a framework fusing research across modalities and species is required. We structure intentional communication into a series of requirements, each of which can be operationalised, investigated empirically, and must be met for purposive, intentionally communicative acts to be demonstrated. Our unified approach helps elucidate the distribution of animal intentional communication and subsequently serves to clarify what is meant by attributions of intentional communication in animals and humans.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Philosophy
06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of German Studies
06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Comparative Linguistics
07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
07 Faculty of Science > Department of Anthropology
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:15 Aug 2016 08:38
Last Modified:23 Nov 2017 03:09
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0006-3231
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12289
PubMed ID:27480784

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