On reading signs

Authors
Ruth Millikan
University of Connecticut
Abstract
On Reading Signs; Some Differences between Us and The Others If there are certain kinds of signs that an animal cannot learn to interpret, that might be for any of a number of reasons. It might be, first, because the animal cannot discriminate the signs from one another. For example, although human babies learn to discriminate human speech sounds according to the phonological structures of their native languages very easily, it may be that few if any other animals are capable of fully grasping the phonological structures of human languages. If an animal cannot learn to interpret certain signs it might be, second, because the decoding is too difficult for it. It could be, for example, that some animals are incapable of decoding signs that exhibit syntactic embedding, or signs that are spread out over time as opposed to over space. Problems of these various kinds might be solved by using another sign system, say, gestures rather than noises, or visual icons laid out in spatial order, or by separating out embedded propositions and presenting each separately. But a more interesting reason that an animal might be incapable of understanding a sign would be that it lacked mental representations of the necessary kind. It might be incapable of representing mentally what the sign conveys. When discussing what signs animals can understand or
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