Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 481–500 | Cite as

Imitation and conventional communication

Article

Abstract

To the extent that language is conventional, non-verbal individuals, including human infants, must participate in conventions in order to learn to use even simple utterances of words. This raises the question of which varieties of learning could make this possible. In this paper I defend Tomasello’s (The cultural origins of human cognition. Harvard UP, Cambridge, 1999, Origins of human communication. MIT, Cambridge, 2008) claim that knowledge of linguistic conventions could be learned through imitation. This is possible because Lewisian accounts of convention have overstated what one must know to participate in conventions; and because the required knowledge could be learned imitatively. The imitation claim that I defend is consistent with what we know about both the proliferation of conventional behaviours in human children, who are skilful imitators, and the comparative absence of such behaviours in non-human great apes, who are poor at imitative learning.

Keywords

Communication Conventions Language development Imitation Social learning 

References

  1. Akhtar N, Tomasello M (1996) Two-year-olds learn words for absent objects and actions. Br J Dev Psychol 14:79–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akhtar N, Carpenter M, Tomasello M (1996) The role of discourse novelty in early word learning. Child Dev 67:635–645CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baldwin D, Moses J (1994) Early understanding of referential intent and attentional focus: evidence from language and emotion. In: Lewis C, Mitchell P (eds) Children’s early understanding of mind. Lawrence Erlbaum, HoveGoogle Scholar
  4. Binmore K (2008) Do conventions need to be common knowledge? Topoi 27:17–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boesch C (1991) Teaching among wild chimpanzees. Anim Behav 41:530–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boesch C (2012) Wild cultures: a comparison between chimpanzee and human cultures. CUP, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burge T (1975/2007) On knowledge and convention. Philos Rev 84:249–255. Reprinted in Burge (2007) Foundations of mind. OUP, Oxford.Google Scholar
  8. Byrne R (2002) Imitation of novel complex actions: what does the evidence from animals mean? Adv Study Behav 33:77–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Call J, Carpenter M, Tomasello M (2005) Copying results and copying actions in the process of social learning: chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and human children (Homo sapiens). Anim Cogn 8:151–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carpenter M, Akhtar N, Tomasello M (1998) Fourteen- through 18-month-old infants differentially imitate intentional and accidental actions. Infant Behav Dev 21:315–330CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cartmill EA, Byrne RW (2010) Semantics of orangutan gesture: determining structure and meaning through form and use. Anim Cogn 13(6):793–804CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Davidson D (1986) A nice derangement of epitaphs. Reprinted in Davidson (2005) Truth, language and history. OUP, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  13. Davis W (2003) Meaning, expression and thought. CUP, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Eco U (1995) The search for the perfect language. Basil Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  15. Gergely G, Csibra G (2005) The social construction of the cultural mind: imitative learning as a mechanism of human pedagogy. Interact Stud 6(3):463–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gergely G, Bekkering H, Király H (2002) Rational imitation in preverbal infants. Nature 415:755CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grice P (1989) Studies in the way of words. Harvard UP, LondonGoogle Scholar
  18. Heyes C (2001) Causes and consequences of imitation. Trends Cogn Sci 5:253–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hobaiter C, Byrne RW (2011) The gestural repertoire of the wild chimpanzee. Anim Cogn 14:745–767CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Horner V, Whiten A (2005) Causal knowledge and imitation/emulation switching in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens). Anim Cogn 8:164–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Laurence S (1998) Convention-based semantics and the development of language. In: Carruthers P, Boucher J (eds) Language and thought. CUP, Cambridge, pp 201–207Google Scholar
  22. Lewis D (1969) Convention. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. Millikan RG (2004) Varieties of meaning: the 2002 Jean Nicod lectures. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  24. Millikan RG (2005) Language: a biological model. OUP, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Moore R (submitted) Cognising communicative intentGoogle Scholar
  26. Nielsen M (2009).The imitative behaviour of children and chimpanzees: a window on the transmission of cultural traditions. Revue de Primatologie [online], 1, document 5. http://primatologie.revues.org/254
  27. Paulus M (2011) Imitation in infancy: conceptual considerations. Theory Psychol 21:849–856CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Paulus M, Hunnius S, Vissers M, Bekkering H (2011) Imitation in infancy: rational or motor resonance? Child Dev 82:1047–1057CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Saggerson AL, George DN, Honey RC (2005) Imitative learning of stimulus-response and response-outcome associations in pigeons. J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process 31:289–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schwier C, van Maanen C, Carpenter M, Tomasello M (2006) Rational imitation in 12-month-old infants. Infancy 10:303–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Seabright P (2010) The company of strangers: a natural history of economic life, 2nd edn. Princeton UP, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  32. Skyrms B (1996) Evolution of the social contract. CUP, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Tennie C, Call J, Tomasello M (2009) Ratcheting up the ratchet: on the evolution of cumulative culture. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364:2405–2415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Tennie C, Call J, Tomasello M (2012) Untrained chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) fail to imitate novel actions. PLoS ONE 7:e4154.8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tomasello M (1999) The cultural origins of human cognition. Harvard UP, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Tomasello M (2000) The item-based nature of children’s early syntactic development. Trends Cogn Sci 4(4):156–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tomasello M (2008) Origins of human communication. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  38. Tomasello M, Call J (eds) (2007) The gestural communication of apes and monkeys. Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, LondonGoogle Scholar
  39. Tomasello M, Carpenter M (2005) Imitation reading and imitative learning. In: Hurley SL, Chater N (eds) Perspectives on imitation, vol 2. MIT, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Whiten A, McGuigan N, Marshall-Pescini S, Hopper L (2009) Emulation, imitation, over-imitation and the scope of culture for child and chimpanzee. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 364:2417–2428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wittgenstein L (1953/2000) Philosophical investigations, 3rd edn. Trans. G. Anscombe. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Developmental and Comparative PsychologyMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

Personalised recommendations