Irene M. Pepperberg
Humans have long been fascinated by the possibility of interspecies communication. Their interest generally has centered on three groups of animals: great apes, certain marine mammals (dolphins and sea lions), and mimetic birds. Recently, this interest has engendered serious scientific inquiry, and studies designed to explore animal/human communication have been undertaken in several laboratoties. Although techniques vary, all such projects employ a common approach: the human researchers endeavor to impose the constraints of anthropocentric communicative systems onto the animals' natural behaviors. Animal subjects in experimental laboratories have thus been taught the use of either human codes or artificial forms of communication based on rules presumed to underlie human systems (see Gardner & Gardner, 1978; Herman, 1980; Herman, Richards, & Woltz, 1984; Miles, 1983; Patterson, 1978; Pepperberg, 1979, 1981, 1983; Premack, 1976; Savage- Rumbaugh, Rumbaugh, & Boysen, 1980; Schusterman & Krieger, 1984). Despite, and possibly because of, the widespread use of this methodology, questions consistently arise as to: (1) the validity and implications of this approach; (2) how the desired communicative behaviors may most efficiently be inculcated; and (3) what the consequences and significance of results might be with respect to the broad concepts of cognition and communication.
A question immediately arises as to the validity of the premise which underlies much of this work: that animals possess cognitive abilities and exhibit complex communicative codes intended for information transfer upon which researchers