Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dogs and Language

Alexandra Horowitz writes in her excellent Inside a Dog:

"...despite their marvellous range and extent of communication, it is the very fact that they do not use language that makes me especially treasure dogs. Their silence can be one of their most endearing traits. Not muteness: absense of linguistic noise. There is no awkwardness in a shared silent moment with a dog: a gaze from the dog on the other side of the room; lying sleepily alongside each other. It is when language stops that we connect most fully."

Back when I used to pal around with Cabalists, one of them said to me "Language is a snare and a delusion. It's useful for explaining nothing." while not realizing the perfect irony of a Cabalist expressing that thought with those exact words, nothing being a pretty difficult and important concept for those guys to explain to the neophytes.
Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.
But there is real truth here, I think. I remember when we first started taking Phoebe to the dog park, it was very clear to me that dogs have a real language, understood among all of them, and that Phoebe needed to learn it if she was going to get along at the park (she did). But it's a non-verbal, symbolic language, which has some advantages over our human languages. First, a dog from one country can immediately communicate with a dog from another country  - erect ears, a tail held high (or low), or various postures are all symbols, and are language independent. The second advantage I see, is that I'm sure that the dogs that live in the Gaza strip, for example, feel no animosity toward the dogs in Israel, and vice-versa. They all see themselves as just dogs.

I constantly learn simple truths from this adventure with Phoebe.
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