, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 121–138 | Cite as

Animal Studies in the Language Sciences

  • Prisca AugustynEmail author


This paper explains how recent changes in the ways we study other animals to better understand the human faculty of language are indicative of changing narratives concerning the intelligence of other animals. Uexküll’s concept of Umwelt as a species-specific model of the world is essential to understanding the semiotic abilities of all organisms, including humans. From this follows the view that human language is primarily a cognitive tool for making models of the world. This view is consistent with the basic premises of cognitive linguistics. The rejection of behaviorism in linguistics represents a turning point in the history of animal studies. The resulting criticism of long-term studies with primates illustrates this shift concerning the study of wild animals within the language sciences and beyond. New insights in dog cognition and research on the processing of human language in canines are reflective of a change in focus away from anthropocentrism towards the species-specific semiotic abilities of animals in the twenty-first century. This new orientation away from comparing animal sign-systems to human language and the importance of studying intelligent wild animals in the wild instead of in captivity have lead to an important re-evaluation of our relationship with other animals and our views of their cognitive and semiotic profiles. This leads to questions such as what role non-human organisms can play in the language sciences, and what our limitations are of studying the sign systems of other animals. Recent research on the signifying abilities of wild dolphins, for instance, has identified a new set of characteristics by which to study intelligence in other species.


Animal studies Linguistics Semiotics Umwelt Non-human intelligence Animal linguistics 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

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