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they would employ simple words to express simple ideas. I do not say, nor do I think, that they would form propositions ; but it seems to me little less than certain that they would use articulate sounds, as they now use tones or gestures. . . . For instance, it would involve the exercise of no higher psychical faculty to say the word 'Come,' than it does to pull at a dress or a coat ... or to utter the word ‘Open,' instead of mewing before a closed door; or, yet again, to utter the word 'Bone,' than to select and carry a card with the word written upon it.”
With a protest against the employment here of the term “idea,” we can express our entire and cordial agreement * with this passage. Words so used need have no meanings beyond those expressed by the various movements which animals do make.
Mr. Romanes next proceeds to relate certain anecdotes about articulating birds, and make certain reflections there anent. We have already seen † how easy is Mr. Romanes's credulity on this subject; and we should bear this credulity in mind, in every attempt to estimate justly the value of his deductions.
* See “On Truth,” p. 352, where we have already pointed out these considerations.
† See above, p. 136. At p. 130 he also tells us, in a note : “I have received numerous letters detailing facts from which I gather that parrots often use comical phrases when they desire to excite laughter, pitiable phrases when they desire to excite compassion, and so on ; although it does not follow from this that the birds understand the meanings of those phrases, further than that they are as a whole appropriate to excite the feelings which it is desired to excite." Such phenomena he also believes himself to have observed.
He begins by telling us,* “It is unquestionable that many parrots know perfectly well that certain names belong to certain persons, and that the way to call these persons is to call their appropriate names.” Here, again, we meet with that ambiguous use of the verb “to know" which we have before objected to here and elsewhere.f He then decorates with the term “very proper" a fagrant statement he quotes from Houzeau, affirming that the way in which“ some parrots habitually use certain words shows an aptitude correctly to perceive [!] and to name [!] qualities as well as objects.”
These statements are either due to a confusion of thought, or to a want of care to avoid playing fast and loose with terms, and so-practically, however unconsciously—throwing dust into the eyes of readers not careful to protect their mental vision. Thus, he next tells us, I very properly, that “the apposite use of words or phrases by talking birds are found on inquiry to be due, as antecedently we should expect that they must, to the principle of association. The bird hears a proper name applied to a person, and so, on learning to say the name, henceforth associates it with that person. And similarly with phrases. These with talking birds are mere vocal gestures, which in themselves present but little more psychological significance than muscular gestures. The verbal petition, 'Scratch poor Poll,' does not in itself display any further psychological development than the significant gesture of depressing the head against the bars of the cage.” This is precisely what we insist upon, and such articulations, like such movements,
* p. 129. † See “ On Truth,” p. 189. I p. 131.
can be fully accounted for without the presence of any real“ understanding” or “ knowledge” at all. Such associations (cited from remarks made by Dr. Samuel Wilks, F.R.S.) as those between the sight of certain persons and sounds or phrases such a bird has heard them utter, or between the sight of the coachman and the words “half-past two,” generally said to him when he comes for orders, or between the sound of drawing a cork with a corkscrew and the sight of a bottle, etc. —all such phenomena of association are most easy to understand and are fully to be accounted for without the presence of any faculty higher than that of consentience.
But after thus admitting the position we contend for, Mr. Romanes proceeds to retract his admissions,* without saying or appearing to be the least aware that he is so doing. He says, “In designating as 'vocal gestures? the correct use (acquired by direct association) of proper names ... and short phrases, I do not mean to disparage the faculty which is displayed. On the contrary, I think this faculty is precisely the same [!] as that whereby children first learn to talk. ... The only difference is that, in a few months after its first commencement in the child, this faculty develops into proportions far surpassing those which it presents in the bird, so that the vocabulary becomes much larger and more discriminative. But the important thing to attend to is that at first, and for several months after its commencement, the vocabulary of a child is always designative of particular objects, qualities, actions, or
* p. 133.
desires, and is acquired by direct association." This is really, though not formally, contradictory to what Mr. Romanes has earlier most truly said,* that the nascent intelligence first apprehends general characters, and not particulars, which latter are only subsequently detected by a process of mental analysis. Of course we utterly deny that the first talking of a parrot and a child is, or can be, due to a faculty which is a precisely the same,” as we also deny that “in this stage language is nothing more than vocal gesticulation.” † It may or it may not be "more,” according to the circumstances.
“Therefore,” concludes Mr. Romanes, “we may now, I think, take the position as established à posteriori as well as à priori, that it is, so to speak, a mere accident of anatomy that all the higher animals are not able thus far to talk; and that, if dogs or monkeys were able to do so, we have no reason to doubt that their use of words and phrases would be even more extensive and striking than that which occurs in birds."
This is true enough, and thus such emotional language need mean no more in the case of a gorilla than it does in that of a cockatoo.
It would be an altogether different matter if animals were really able to use names, knowing what they were about, or could point out groups of objects understood as such. This, however, is what Mr. Romanes does not hesitate to say they can do. He tells us : "There still remains one feature in the psychology of talking birds to which I must now draw prominent attention. So far as I can ascertain, it has not been * pp. 64-67 ; see also above, p. 88.
7 p. 134.
mentioned by any previous writer, although I should think it is one that can scarcely have escaped the notice of any attentive observer of these animals. I allude to the aptitude which intelligent parrots display of extending their articulate signs from one object, quality, or action, to another which happens to be strikingly similar in kind. For example, one of the parrots which I kept under observation in my own house learnt to imitate the barking of a terrier, which also lived in the house. After a time this barking was used by the parrot as a denotative sound, or proper name, for the terrieri.e., whenever the bird saw the dog it used to bark, whether or not the dog did so. Next, the parrot ceased to apply this denotative name to that particular dog, but invariably did so to any other, or unfamiliar, dog which visited the house. Now, the fact that the parrot ceased to bark when it saw my terrier after it had begun to bark when it saw other dogs, clearly showed that it distinguished between individual dogs, while receptually perceiving their class resemblance. In other words, the parrot's name for an individual dog became extended into a generic name for all dogs."
Now, as Mr. Romanes very often refers back to this example, we must criticize the passage with some pains and at some length. In the first place, as Mr. Romanes has before remarked *_citing Dr. Wilks—it is common enough for parrots to imitate on seeing a visitor some words or noise he habitually makes, as it may imitate the sound of cork-drawing on seeing a bottle. Barking at the sight of the terrier is, then (as Mr. Romanes would
* pp. 131, 132.