Are non-human primates Gricean? Intentional communication in language evolution

Abstract

The field of language evolution has recently made Gricean pragmatics central to its task, particularly within comparative studies between human and non-human primate communication. The standard model of Gricean communication requires a set of complex cognitive abilities, such as belief attribution and understanding nested higher-order mental states. On this model, non-human primate communication is then of a radically different kind to ours. Moreover, the cognitive demands in the standard view are also too high for human infants, who nevertheless do engage in communication. In this paper I critically assess the standard view and contrast it with an alternative, minimal model of Gricean communication recently advanced by Richard Moore. I then raise two objections to the minimal model. The upshot is that this model is conceptually unstable and fails to constitute a suitable alternative as a middle ground between full-fledged human communication and simpler forms of non-human animal communication.

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Lucas Battich
Institut Jean Nicod

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