Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Real Pebbles



Years ago, I bought Carol a female baby green cheeked Amazon (Amazona viridigenalis C.) which she immediately named Pebbles. She was so young that she was all pin-feathers and Carol had to feed her with an eye dropper. Since Carol had a background in psychology and I in ethology, neither one of us was inclined to read human motivation into the bird's behavior. However we were interested in her inclination toward language, so Carol decided to treat her as if she harbored the same sort of undeveloped intelligence as a baby human.
Carol made no attempt to teach her to talk. That is, she did not endlessly repeat phrases over and over to her nor drill her in any sort of way. What she has done since, every single evening before covering her cage for the night, is spend some time scratching her head and talking to her.
Within a few months, Pebbles began calling out to Carol by name, and not long after that began calling out to us when she wanted things, such as, "I want out!" In time, she was telling us about how she felt about things such as, "I don't like it!" She began asking us questions such as, "How are you?" and, "Am I coming?" After a few years, she was not only asking questions, but talking about things removed in place and time, such as, "Is Carol at work?" and, "You'll be all right."
Pebbles also has a sense of self. She always correctly refers to herself as the subject, "I," and she calls herself a "bird." She loves to watch films and shortly after watching The Dinosaurs, said, "I'm a dinosaur." To say that she uses her words in the proper context is an understatement. Her contextual usage is every bit as correct as that of a typical two year old human. What she is not is fluently conversant. Only now, after living with her for decades, are we managing to converse with her. After saying things back and forth two or three times, the conversation usually stops.
Here is a list of her words that we are certain of. She may have a repertoire of as many as a hundred words, but frequency and clarity limit us to these seventy. They are not listed in nice columns because of the contrary behavior of this website.
a, about, all, almonds, am, are, at, baby, bad, bad dord (bastard?), be, bear, bird, bye, care, Carol, come, coming, dinosaur, do, doing, duck, fair, for, girl, going, good, got, has, he, hello, here, how, I, it, is, know, like, look, love, nightmare not, now, okay, out, Pebbles, ready, right, rubber, school, sorry, talking, thank, that, the, they, to, up, wake, want, weird, well, what, where, will, work, wrong, yea (yow), yeap (yip), you.
And her phrases:
All right. All right! All right? Almonds. Am I coming? Am I going? Am I going to school? Are you coming? Are you going to school? Bad! Bad dord! (bastard?) Bad girl!
Bear! Bye. Come here. Carol! Hello. How are you? How are you are you all right? How are you are you okay? I don't care! I don't like it. I know it. I know what you're talking about. I like it. I look all right. I love you. I'm a bird. I'm a dinosaur. I'm a good, good, good, good bird. I'm a good, good, good, good girl. I'm all right. I'm ready. I'm sorry. I'm the baby. I'm the Pebbles. Is Carol at work? I want out. Okay. Okay? Right now! Rubber duck! Thank you. That's not fair! That's right. Wake up. Well come here. What is that? What is wrong? What's he doing? What's he got? What's that? What's that for? What's wrong? What's you doing? Where are you going? Where are they at? Yea!(yow) Yeap! (yip) You coming? You going to come here? You'll be all right. You're all right.
We did not by any means teach her to talk. Her ability to talk is a capacity that comes from her own DNA. She can communicate using a code of arbitrary sounds about things removed in place and time because it has survival value for her species. Providence only knows what sort of languages she might be using had she stayed in the Mexican wilds.
Our character Pebbles, Hubba Hubba's wife, behaves like an Amazon, but is fluently conversant, and appears in each of the books in the Heart of the Staff: Complete Series:  Good Sister, Bad SisterThe Collector WitchStone HeartThe BurgeoningThe Reaper Witch, and Doom.
Box 1600x2500 (1)








Tom Phipps

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