Are Non-Human Primates Gricean? Intentional Communication in Language Evolution

Author(s): Lucas Battich

Pulse: A History, Sociology and Philosophy of Science Journal, #5, pp. 70–88.

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The field of language evolution has recently made Gricean pragmatics central to its task, particularly within comparative studies between human and non-human primate communication. The standard model of Gricean communication requires a set of complex cognitive abilities, such as belief attribution and understanding nested higher-order mental states. On this model, non-human primate communication is then of a radically different kind to ours. Moreover, the cognitive demands in the standard view are also too high for human infants, who nevertheless do engage in communication. In this paper I critically assess the standard view and contrast it with an alternative, minimal model of Gricean communication recently advanced by Richard Moore. I then raise two objections to the minimal model. The upshot is that this model is conceptually unstable and fails to constitute a suitable alternative as a middle ground between full-fledged human communication and simpler forms of non-human animal communication.