Bob Corbett

ADAM'S TASK: CALLING ANIMALS BY NAME. by Vicki Hearne. New York: Vintage Books, 1987.    ISBN: 0-394-75530-8

  1. The book is quite exasperating in that it appears to me very disorganized and much too chatty for my taste. I get tired of waiting to get to some substantial claim, and often can't figure out why what is being said is relevant, or rather, what it might be relevant to.
  2. On the other hand the general notion that I seem to be digging out is that domestic animals, at least the dog and horse, can be shown to be much "smarter" than we think primarily based upon their ability to learn language and manipulate it beyond mere single learned response.
  3. Learning language seems to me, in fact responding to language with behavior as a habitual or nearly constant response.
  4. I have been struck by the difference in both behavior and responses to language in the case of small American children and American dogs, in contrast with children and dogs in Vienna.

In Austria both children and dogs are "trained" to respond to language which displays itself noticeably in social situations such that the children or dogs are not particularly disruptive. They simply fit in comfortably manners, as would a adult, just arriving.

Here in the U.S., especially in the age of permissive parents, and, as always, virtually untrained dogs as the common pet, both the dogs and the children are often, in not usually, disruptive of the normal adult society.

To the extent that this observation is true, it would make Hearne's thesis much easier for one to understand who has had the Vienna experience, or something like it, and make it easier to understand the dog's exceptional ability to "fit in" in Vienna, to be evidence of linguistic training reflecting an intelligent and even MORAL fittingness.

(I can hardly believe I've even written that!)

Actaully I don't really mean moral fittingness. I don't believe children should be seen and not heard, or if heard, heard as participants in the adult world. I raised seven children and didn't raise them in that fashion. On the other had, I also don't really like the fully pemissive child-centered world of U.S. culture either. I'd much prefer some difficult to describe middle ground, and strove for it as a parent.

However, the moral point is very minor to my notes. I was mainly trying to clarify the training issue, and not to morally evaluate it.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett