Recognizing intentional signals and their meaning in non-human communication

Cat Hobaiter*, Adriano Reis e Lameira, Derek Nelson Ball

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


How can we tell if someone is trying to talk to us—especially when that someone is not a member of our species (or even from our solar system)? And once we have detected a signal, how can we tell what it means? This chapter outlines an approach based on the work of the twentieth-century philosopher Paul Grice. It begins by developing two key ideas from Grice: (i) the idea that communication is a cooperative endeavor, and (ii) the idea that meaning (in one interesting sense) is a matter of acting with particular intentions. It then shows how these two ideas have been developed into a toolkit that has proved very fruitful in studying non-human animal communication. Applying this toolkit to extraterrestrial signals would be challenging, but the chapter concludes by suggesting strategies with which to begin.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationXenolinguistics
Subtitle of host publicationtowards a science of extraterrestrial language
EditorsDouglas A. Vakoch, Jeffrey Punske
Place of PublicationAbingdon
PublisherRoutledge Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781003352174
ISBN (Print)9781032399607, 9781032399591
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2023


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