A Pragmatic Approach to Chimpanzee Language Studies
Recent studies of language development in children have begun to take into account the contextual, cognitive and social parameters which affect the acquisition process. The increasingly sophisticated concern with these problems probably has been best exemplified by the work of Elizabeth Bates (1976). As she points out, “It is…no longer appropriate for psycholinguistics to apply linguistic concepts directly without first considering their fit to current knowledge about cognitive processing and social dynamics” (p. 6). This orientation toward the study of language acquisition has been termed a “pragmatic approach.” It concentrates on the relationship between content (what is spoken) and use (what is accomplished, in terms of information communicated and actions which result from spoken words). Pragmatics, as Bates (1976) explains, is “the study of linguistic indices, and indices can be interpreted only when they are used. One cannot describe the meanings of indices—one can only describe rules for relating them to a context, in which meaning can be found” (p. 3). Her work, however, does not cease with the study of language use. It delves deeply into the cognitive levels of awareness and the complex inferential process that permits the same set of words to be used to mean many different things.
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