chapter  15
21 Pages

Words and Memory

A common expression speaks of the "power of words"-but this refers, of course, to human words. Can we talk about chimpanzee words in a similar vein, or are the pie ces of plastic a lesser device that only appear to be like words but differ from them in critical respects? To answer this question we must first decide what is meant by "power of the word." I suspect that what the phrase celebrates is the extraordinary extent to which the word can be substituted for its referent. This substitution is made possib1e by the subject's ability to use the word as an information retrieval device. The phrase therefore implies that, in the human case, the name of an object can be virtually as informative as the object itself, which is to say, the word can be used to retrieve a remarkably complete representation of its referent.