The last decades have seen important changes in the way we understand animal communication. The view that animal signals consisted essentially of affective, reflex-like stimuli and responses was replaced by a view of animal communication as flexible and considerably “cognitive.” Primates and other species demonstrated apparent referential understanding of vocal signals, and studies with apes suggested communicative intentionality in their use of gestures. However, it was never clear what sort of knowledge and understanding of reference and intentionality was being attributed to animals, and the last years have seen attempts at revisiting the initial interpretations. What sort of meaning is animal meaning? Has the cognitive side of animal signals not been exaggerated at the expense of the affective and emotional sides? Is affective/emotional communication necessarily less complex and non-referential? And what is the relation between animal communication and human language evolution? In this interdisciplinary workshop —part of the AHRC Science in Culture Project Rethinking Mind and Meaning—, we explore ways of rethinking animal meaning and communication in the wider context of rethinking our understanding of the minds of nonverbal creatures.
The workshop is partly funded by the University of St. Andrews