November 13, 2003

Language AND syntax??

In the New York Times the other day ( Science Times, 11/11/03), James Gorman wrote this in an article entitled `Are animals smarter than we think?':

`Over the past few decades it has become clear that the great apes can learn some aspects of language and syntax. Parrots and dolphins can do the same.'

Curious linguists will want to know why Gorman's implicit defintion of `language' excludes syntax; they will also wonder how he determined that the great apes, parrots, and dolphins can clearly learn some syntax. The notion that syntax isn't part of language will certainly surprise all linguists, and the various claims that the great apes (much less parrots and dolphins) can learn syntax are at best highly controversial. A sizable vocabulary, yes, at least as far as a few superstar great apes are concerned; syntax, though -- that's another matter entirely.

Posted by Sally Thomason at November 13, 2003 12:37 PM