July 4, 2015
Written by Maximus Peperkamp, M.S. Verbal Engineer
This writing is my response to “Sound on the rebound: bringing form and function back to the forefront in understanding nonhuman primate vocal signaling” by Owren and Rendall (2001). I first respond to the abstract, which tells me that this paper is about the complications involved in “comparing human language with primate nonhuman primate vocal behavior.” Especially, there are “conceptual worries, particularly in the teleology inherent in using complex linguistic phenomena from humans as models for simpler vocal processes in nonhumans.”
Sound Verbal Behavior (SVB) is the kind of talking in which the speaker is aware of how he or she sounds, that is, how he or she is perceived by the listener. If the listener experiences the vocal behavior of the speaker as an appetitive stimulus which sounds good then the speaker and the listener are engaging in SVB. If, on the other hand, the listener experiences the sound of the speaker as an aversive stimulus, the speaker and the listener engage in Noxious Verbal Behavior (NVB). As the discoverer and explorer of these two universal subsets of vocal behavior in humans, I know better than anyone else about the implications and complications involved in the SVB/NVB distinction.
Whenever people in SVB listen to the sound of their own voice while they speak, they realize that they are not fixated on what they are saying and concerned with how they are saying it. This shift of focus is profound. Surprisingly, what people are saying is gaining more importance due to how they are saying it. Also, the speaker-as-own-listener is not trying to say anything in any particular kind of way, but is simply, calmly, authentically and consciously expressing him or herself. In other words, there is no struggle in the speaker to find the right words, to get the attention or to convince others. When the environment, consisting of other people, is receptive to the speaker-as-own-listener, to the person who listens to him or herself while he or she speaks, the speaker is able to remain effortlessly focused on what he or she wants to say. Stated differently, when a speaker is not trying to impress others, but is able to say whatever he or she is thinking and feeling, the listener can effortlessly listen and comprehend what the speaker is saying. Furthermore, when a listener wants to be a speaker, he or she can do that and a former speaker then becomes a listener to this speaker. Like the first speaker, the second speaker is also listening to him or herself while he or she speaks. As a result of turn-taking speakers and listeners reciprocally reinforce each other during SVB. However, NVB occurs again when speakers no longer listen to themselves.
I will now describe how this paper explains things about the SVB/NVB distinction. We have to carefully pick apart the sentence that “it also creates conceptual worries, particularly in the teleology inherent in using complex linguistic phenomena from human models for simple vocal processes in nonhumans".
We have to be mindful that we are only reading and writing about these matters. Speaking about linguistic phenomena or listening to a speaker who talks about these matters is an entirely different behavior than reading or writing about it.
Speaking about "linguistic phenomena" in a SVB or in a NVB fashion will be experienced differently by the listener. I think that most of these conceptual worries occur as we don’t speak about it (but mainly write and read about it) and those very few moments that we do talk about it we engage in NVB. All our conceptual worries can be dissolved in SVB.
The “difficulties engendered by a linguistically inspired, meaning-based view of primate calls, specifically that vocalizations are arbitrarily structured vehicles for transmitting encoded referential information” are in my opinion reifications caused by too much writing and reading and a lack of talking. We treat abstractions put together by our verbal behavior as real things. Moreover, we make processes into things as we change verbs into nouns. Presumably human beings possess thoughts and feelings do things with these thoughts and feelings as if they were tools in a toolbox. Although, like everybody else, these researchers don’t know anything about how to stimulate and maintain SVB, since they are scientists, they are more inclined to be objective when conversations get stranded in NVB. Owren and Rendall fully acknowledge that "linguistically inspired" researchers have elevated written definitions above reality itself. This is why, according to them, we are stuck with the “metaphor-as-explanation approach.”