Individual Dolphins Have Names?
In the "Nation and World" section of my local paper there is an Earthweek section that describes all sorts of stuff -- especially disasters. Today, my wife spotted reference to an article claiming that individual Dolphins have names, that they recognize their names, and two dolphins can refer to a third by his or her name. We are assured that "she stopped short of saying dolphins might have a human-like language." Check you this Yahoo reference.
This article reveals the stunning level of ignorance of the nature of language by the writer, one Deborah Zabarenko, for it is a silly suggestion that the researcher might think this unless they too are silly.
Even if it is true that dolphins have individual names and can signal other dolphins by names, this is about as far from showing that dolphins have something like human language as saying that people who eat round fruits can play Major League baseball. The reason is simple.
The official word from the philosophical world for years, and may still be, is that proper names, which is what we are talking about here, are rigid designators. A rigid designator is something that designates some entity but does not have conventional meaning. Thus, for instance, the name "George W. Bush" is devoid of content. This view is due to the philosopher Kripke. His argument goes like this. Consider
(1) Aristotle might not have been the last great philosopher of antiquity.We all know that Aristotle was the last great philosopher of antiquity. Certainly, I know that because I read all of them back in the day. Note, though, that if the name "Aristotle" has meaning in the way that, say "the last great philosopher of antiquity" does, then sentence (1) should be as odd as (2) but its not. Sentence (1) makes an empirical claim; (2) does not. Kripke wrote:
(2) Aristotle might not have been Aristotle.
The rigidity of proper names demonstrates that utterances of sentences containing proper names, and utterances of sentences differing from those sentences only in containing nonrigid descriptions in place of the proper names, differ in content.I took this quote from a section of A Companion to the Philosophy of Language called "Names and Rigid Designation", which you might want to read.
In a way, using a name to refer to a man in the immediate environment is cognitively no different from pointing to him except for the difference between doing something linguistically and physically. Thus, though it is interesting that Dolphins might have names and might refer to to other Dolphins by names -- they don't have fingers so they can't point -- it in no way, shape, or form suggests that they have language at all.
However, the rigid designator theory of proper names doesn't fully fly. Advertisers know this and craft their proper names to exploit the semantic content of the words employed. Should a manufacturer of candy that they sell to children call something "Fruit Squares," the children of the world would be quite surprised to find that they do not contain fruit and are not square. I discussed this in my book on TV advertising making the point that we have "understandings" of the things and people that proper names refer to that are not the same thing as conventional meanings but are functionally equivalent. If I asked you who I am you would reply with some sentences that would reflect your understanding of me and you associate these with my name or moniker "The Language Guy" or "LG."
Advertisers use this fact to exploit us -- especially children. There was and may still be something called "Fruit Stripe" gum. Anyone below the age of four or five or six or seven or eight (who knows?) who sees or hear that name will expect the gum to have some fruit in it and, moreover, that this fruit will come in the form of stripes, as, perhaps, a clever way of bringing fruit flavor to the gum. In fact, the stripes are printed on the gum and have nothing to do with the flavor of the gum. Moreover, the gum has or, at least had when I last looked, no fruit in it at all. It was artificially flavored. Check out this screen shot I took and used in the book:
Notice the stripes on the gum and the mane of the horse (donkey?) as well as the ball on the nose. As I recall, pieces of fruit bounce into the picture and affix themselves to the noses of the animals. It was and probably still is the case that wholly artificially flavored products with names like "Fruit Stripes" and "Fruit Loops" will show pictures of fruit to help sell the kids on the good flavor. This particular ad claims, for instance: "And now our fruit stripes are bigger. And there is more fruit flavor. There's more orange. More lemon. More cherry. More lime. And more fruit flavor makes your mouth taste fine." Given that there is no connection between the stripes printed on the gum and the flavor this is monumentally deceptive. And, of course, there was no fruit in the product at all. This practice is despicable on the part of the advertisers of the product and the manufacturers who hired them. I am tempted to take a fresh look at Saturday morning cartoons. I bet you a nickel nothing has changed.
Putting in a disclaimer that the product is "artificially flavored" won't help much unless mom or pop is around to explain it. I asked my kid, who was seven at the time, "What does `artificially flavored' mean?" and she replied, "Not real." I asked, "What does that mean?" and she said she didn't know. In fact, I suspect there are adults who don't fully grasp this concept. For instance, is a chocolate flavored bar that contains carob, but no chocolate, "artificially flavored" or not? Carob is a natural food. It seems to be healthier than chocolate. So is it naturally or artificially flavored?
Fruit Loops, the last I looked, took the form of loops, as in the case of Cheerios, but the different colors are not associated as far as my taste buds could tell with different flavors. Advertisers use "fruit" in the name of their products because they know that children will believe that the product has some sort of connection to fruit. The kids don't give a damn about the possible nutritional implications of their containing fruit but from eating fruit they are likely to expect the product to taste fruity.
Okay, friends and neighbors, I am going to give you a homework problem. Our fruit stripe ad used fruit names in the singular: "There's more orange. More lemon. More cherry. More lime." Why?