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For now I'm assuming that Davidson is right that somoene who can think communicate with language.
What account of language acquisition is consistent with this assumption?
A clue is given by Davidson ...

‘The ability to discriminate, to act differentially in the face of clues to the presence of food, danger or safety, is present in all animals and does not require reason. Nor does the learning, even of complex routines, require reason, for it is possible to learn how to act without learning that anything is the case.’

\citep[p.\ 326]{Davidson:1982je}

Davidson (1982b, 326); cf. (1995c, 207)

So we might suppose that acquiring a language involves learning how to act without learning that anything is the case.
This is the general idea. How can we make it concrete?
Our question is, How do humans first come to communicate using words?
Let's start with Bertrand Russell.

‘A child learning to speak is learning habits and associations which are just as much determined by the environment as the habit of expecting dogs to bark and cocks to crow’

\citep[p.\ 71]{Russell:1921ww}

(Russell 1921, p. 71)

But how does the environment determine habits and associations?
Wittgenstein suggests that the habits are determined by training.

‘[t]he child learns this language from the grown-ups by being trained to its use. I am using the word ‘trained’ in a way strictly analogous to that in which we talk of an animal being trained to do certain things. It is done by means of example, reward, punishment, and suchlike’

\citep[p.\ 77]{Wittgenstein:1972lj}

(Wittgenstein 1972, p. 77).

But how does this training work?
But now what are these habits and associations?
One answer is suggested by Quine.

‘the child’s early learning of a verbal response depends on society's reinforcement of the response in association with the stimulations that merit the response’

(\citep[p.\ 82]{Quine:1960fe}; compare \citep[pp.\ 28--9]{Quine:1974rd})

(Quine 1960, p. 82)

So this is the picture.
For each word, there is a set of 'stimulations' in response to which an utterance of that word would be appropriate.
For instance, we might suppose there's a set of banana stimulations in response to which an utterance of the word 'banana' would be appropriate.
The child then comes to use the word 'banana' in response to the bananana-stimuluations by means of being trained.
She is rewarded for using 'banana' correctly or punished for using it incorrectly (or both) and so she gradually zeros in on the correct pattern of use.


stimulations -> utter 'nana'


stimulations -> press lever

This seems to be approximately Davidson's own view.
‘Before we have an idea of truth or error, before the advent of concepts or propositional thought,

there is a rudiment of communication in the simple discovery that sounds produce results. Crying is the first step toward language when crying is found to procure one or another form of relief or satisfaction. More specific sounds, imitated or not, are rapidly associated with more specific pleasures.

Here use //p. 71// would be meaning, if anything like intention and meaning were in the picture.

A large further step has been taken when the child notices that others also make distinctive sounds at the same time the child is having the experiences that provoke its own volunteered sounds. For the adult, these sounds have a meaning, perhaps as one word sentences. The adult sees herself as doing a little ostensive teaching: “Eat,” “Red,” “Ball,” “Mamma,” “Milk,” “No.” There is now room for what the adult views as error: the child says “Block” when it is a slab. This move fails to be rewarded, and the conditioning becomes more complex’

(Davidson 2000: 70-1; see also Davidson 1999: 11).

\citep[pp.\ 70--1]{Davidson:2000mt}