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Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals Hardcover – November 27, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“[Slobodchikoff] seemlessly intersperses wry, fascinating animal examples of language use and style with examples of human interaction that illuminate the complexity of animal comminication. [He] puts the world of animal communication into a realm that readers can readily understand appreciate, and marvel at. Highly recommended.” ―Library Journal

“Con Slobodchikoff has done some fantastic work on animal communication. His research on prairie dog language is mind-blowing.” ―Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation

“Con Slobodchikoff is a highly respected scientist who is able to translate the results of groundbreaking scientific studies into a popular format that is easy for anyone without a scientific background to understand.Chasing Doctor Dolittle is written with clarity, persuasion, and singular authority. It is a wonderful, deeply insightful book.” ―Jeffrey Masson, author of When Elephants Weep and Dogs Never Lie About Love

“Con Slobodchikoff has been studying the social behavior and language of prairie dogs for many years and and has shown clearly that these social, family-oriented rodents have one of the most complex communication systems among nonhuman animals who have been studied in detail. His popular writings call upon his vast research experience and they have an entertaining and easy-to-read style. Con is also able to simplify complicated ideas for non-scientists without losing their scientific validity. Chasing Doctor Dolittle will appeal to anyone who wants to learn more about the fascinating lives of many of the animals with whom we share our planet.” ―Marc Bekoff, author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons For Expanding Our Compassion Footprint

“This is a revolutionary book. Con Slobodchikoff's well-reasoned arguments that animals have language are a breath of fresh air.” ―Jonathan Balcombe, author of Pleasurable Kingdom and Second Nature

“With this bold book, biologist Con Slobodchikoff strides into that hushed corner of science where animal communication is studied intensely but the word language is rarely whispered. Just as Donald R. Griffin tried to shake us out of stereotyped thinking about animals and their consciousness, Slobodchikoff asks us to reconsider our definitions of language, what it consists of, and what it does. Amazingly, given the scientific complexities of his topic, he has written an easily accessible book with anecdotes that will cause any dog or cat fancier to take a long, speculative look at the animals in the house.” ―Holly Menino, author of Calls Beyond Our Hearing

About the Author

CON SLOBODCHIKOFF is a professor of biology at Northern Arizona University and director of the Animal Language Institute. He has a B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031261179X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312611798
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Chasing Doctor Doolittle by Con Slobodchikoff, PhD, is an absolutely fascinating and intriguing interpretation of the language of animals. Dr. Con is a well respected scientist who, with his team, has recorded and decoded vocalizations of prairie dogs through - the Discourse System - as he discovered the complexities of language within an animal community.

From his earliest memory of learning the English language at just 5 years old, until his years of research with prairie dogs, and throughout his years of observations of a variety of animals, his perception, his observations and his desire to teach others about language in animals will keep you glued to the pages of this book.

Dr. Con's personal account is easy reading in that he effectively combines his personal experiences with his scientific findings to create a unique literary style that educates those who share his yearning to understand animal language. He not only relates what he sees and hears; he backs up his findings with scientific data, and offers a logical explanation as to the complex language of prairie dogs. His descriptions and personal stories of his observations of behavior in animals makes sense to those who love animals, and creates a pause for those who are swayed only by scientific evidence.

In Chasing Doctor Doolittle, Dr. Con challenges the reader "to cross the vast chasm" that humans build between them and animals. A line on the final page sums up what this book is all about: "For us, the idea that other animals have language is a bridge back to the natural world." This is a book written from the heart and soul, but based upon years of research, and is a must read!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Slobodchikoff has filtered a lot of information into an accessible book, written for a broad audience.

Linguists have long held a certain theory of language, which Slobodchikoff explains really well. Building on and slightly modifying current views, he adds his own theory, which he calls a "Discourse system" which ties language to a biology. The discourse system is biological, like our nervous system. This helps explain why other animals have languages and how our own language evolved out of common biological needs found in many species. I found this section of the book really helpful to bring me up to speed on current linguistic theory in an easy way (I had already read Stephen Pinker and Noam Chomsky on language, however, but Slobodchikoff distill their basic views in an easy-to-read way), and I found the way he roots language biologically to be really helpful.

Slobodchikoff's overview of the many different studies on nonhuman animals and language is really helpful. He distills, for example, some of his own research into prairie dogs, showing how they have extremely complex communication that we can only really label as language, and demonstrates such things as that black-capped chickadees have recursion (the ability to add relative clauses to sentences), which linguists like Chomsky say is the sine qua non of language. These are just a few of the many examples he gives. Along the way he cites a great number of resources that people can follow up with to learn further.

I wish he had engaged a little more with some philosophical issues. Specifically, how would Ludwig Wittgenstein's view of language help Slobodchikoff (and those of us convinced by his work) in his endeavor to understand nonhuman languages?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was a delightful surprise even though I knew what I was buying as a result of a radio interview I'd heard featuring the author. The book is both scholarly and readable, science-based and down-to-earth. If you long to bridge the communications gap with your pet; if you wonder how ants get their marching orders; if you listen to a birdsong and conclude it must be a language of some sort, you will enjoy this book.
The author has apparently taken substantial risks in his academic career, positing as he does the non-traditional opinion that animals do possess and use communication skills that, in many cases, can legitimately be called language. He describes his own extensive research and that of many other scientists, and presents many eye-opening observations about how information is transmitted within species. His fieldwork was conducted in an entirely scientific framework, leading this reader to wonder at first if the book would be dry and too text-bookish. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It reads like a lively dinnertable conversation with a friendly and articulate scientist.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The story of evolution is peppered with great scientists so perhaps the most seminal adage for every scientist to keep in mind regards how we all "stand on the shoulders of giants".

Darwin had a great insight but his own work on "natural selection", the key mechanism of "evolution" and trans-generational inheritance, were informed by Ray, Linnaeus, Maupertuis, Malthus, Mendel, and even his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin. Who were themselves influenced by the likes of the ancient philosophers Anaximander, Empedocles, Aristotle, and Lucretius Carus.

Spanning the fields of zoology, chemistry, geology, biochemistry, anthropology, paleontology while orbiting the realms of philosophy and metaphysics the science of similarity has long been at the heart of discovering natural history's temporal map of shared characteristics (leading to enhanced characteristics inherent to biological processes like metabolism, development, reproduction, locomotion, ..., which specifically define us as modern human-beings), the manner in which evolution has formed every living thing on Earth is at the heart of it all.

Now imagine how it is that even scientists deeply steeped in the science of evolution and clearly dedicated to discovery could still stubbornly insist upon ascribing to assumptions regarding how it is that a system as complex as language in humans might not have functionally obvious and empirically verifiable shared traits with our "fellow living things". Hardly limited to "critters", the plant world is also well known for its own chemically conveyed informative outreach to other living things.
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