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Talking animal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A talking animal or speaking animal is any non-human animal that can produce sounds or gestures resembling those of a human language. Several species or groups of animals have developed forms of communication which superficially resemble verbal language, however, these are not defined as language because they lack one or more of the defining characteristics, i.e. grammar, syntax, recursion and displacement. Researchers have been successful in teaching some animals to make gestures similar to sign language. However, these animals fail to reach one or more of the criteria accepted as defining language.

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You may not want to admit it, but at one time in your life, you’ve talked to an animal. Maybe it was letting a dog know it was a good dog or asking a cat where it’s been. Maybe you gave words of encouragement to an elephant or scolded a sheep. Whichever animal it was you talked to, one thing is for sure; it probably didn’t talk back. But what if it could? Scientists are working on ways to not only understand what animals are saying, but to one day talk back, forever changing the way we think about them. So, how close are we to talking with animals? Okay, I know what you’re all saying, animals do “talk”, just not with words. They make noises, they have facial expressions and body language. But, this isn’t exactly what we’re talking about. I think it's important to distinguish between what we call communication and language. Communication is the more general term and it really refers to this exchanging of signals, sharing and exchanging messages or signals in a meaningful way. Language is a word that is fraught with interpretations and involved in many debates, whether other animals have language or they're communicating. Well the truth is that we suppose that animals have language, but in a lot of cases, we have to actually prove this experimentally. But a lot of people are enchanted with the idea of animals having language. No one has yet proven that an animal or a species has language, partly because the idea of what constitutes a language hasn’t really been established. But in the broad sense, language should be a distinct and organized pattern of communication, with a near infinite number of combinations, that has been learned and used voluntarily, not in a reactionary or instinctual manner. When your dog barks when a squirrel runs past, this is a predictable and instinctual response, so we don’t consider it language. But there have been studies that have shown some do communicate in a very complex manner that show traits of language. Now we just have to figure out how to decipher what they’re saying. I think the possibility of us having a Rosetta Stone with an animal is very real. What we have to do is we have to do the experiments to determine the context in which animal signals are given. That context is going to give us the Rosetta Stone. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Dr Con Slobodchikoff has been studying prairie dog calls because within those high-pitched chirps, they actually are saying a lot. They are able to tell each other what the species of predator is, and the alarm calls are given in response to a predator. The prairie dogs tell each other whether the predator is a red-tailed hawk, is a coyote, is a domestic dog, or is a human. They can describe the physical features of the predator. With humans, they can tell each other about the color of clothes that the person is wearing, about the general size and shape of the person, something about the speed of travel of the person. Combining years of recorded prairie dog alarms with AI technology, he may one day be able to create a prairie dog to English translator. Unfortunately, determining that animals have language is a difficult process. It's not an easy one. It takes a lot of effort and time, and it takes a certain amount of money. One of the main obstacles that slows us down from communicating with other species is that we don't have a shared code. While Dr Slobodchikoff is trying to use prairie dog language as the shared code, others are looking to create a new code, one that can hopefully bridge the gap between humans and animals. We've now created a four by eight foot touchscreen, an interactive underwater touchscreen for dolphins that will allow them again choice and control and it will allow us to try to understand what the kinds of signals they're using and their own interests, more about their cognitive abilities. Dr. Reiss and her team will observe the dolphin’s choices and compare that to their vocalizations and mannerisms with the hope of decoding some parts of the dolphin’s speech. Again, to create a Rosetta Stone to help translate and hopefully one day talk to dolphins using their language. In our lab, we try to give the dolphins a means of communication using a keyboard so that they could request and identify different objects and that's what we're working on now so that they can produce a code themselves. Again, it's such a challenge though to come up with a shared language. Well, if it’s so hard to learn their language, can’t we just teach them ours? Isn’t that an easier way to have an interspecies conversation? Well, maybe.  For decades scientists have been working with apes to teach them American Sign Language in order to learn more about both the species and the origin of human language. 8:00 - “So the first Chimp was Washoe, she was wild caught by the Air Force. They were collecting chimps for the space program...instead of going into space she joined this sign language project. She was raised like a human child...all over her caregivers used American sign language…” Washoe was able to learn over 200 signs, talk to scientists and even taught another chimp how to sign. More studies popped up, most famously with Koko the Gorilla, and for a moment the lines between human and animals blurred ever so slightly. Some were still skeptical, arguing that these apes were just mimicking signs for a reward instead of voluntarily conversing. But other studies were done that showed apes talking amongst themselves with signs and having private conversations with each other. They seemed to be using language voluntarily. Now, even though great progress has been made, some in this field feel uncomfortable with the idea of bringing in new apes, or any animal, into captivity. As someone that’s been doing this for a long time, I feel that this research should never be repeated...but the chimps that do have sign language, i feel it's important for us to continue to document it, study it…i feel that it's important work because it helps us understand more about chimps and see the continuity between our species and other species on the planet and i feel that if we understand them better we’re more likely to treat them, and the rest of other beings on the planet in a better way. And that is what may be at stake here. That’s why scientists are interested in studying interspecies communication and closing that gap between us and them. I think if we could talk to animals, it would really change our relationship with them because people would realize that they are much more like us in many respects. They have emotions. They have thoughts...It becomes much more difficult than to treat these animals as property, as disposable creatures… MJ “We are taught with our culture...that we’re so special and superior to other beings...when people see the chimps signing, it’s like the chimps are reaching across that imaginary boundary that our culture has put up...for a lot of people that helps them widen their circle of compassion… .it's going to really perhaps end what Loren Eiseley has called The Long Loneliness of us being the only species that can communicate with each other. That would be very exciting to be able to communicate with other species on this planet. If we were ever able to have a conversation with an animal, we first need to decode every sound and movement they make when communicating. This would be our Rosetta Stone, the groundwork for being able to talk back, a scenario that might change how we think, govern, work, innovate and of course, eat. So, how close are we to talking to animals? We really have to abandon our arrogance, and it’s our arrogance that keeps us from communicating with other humans in other cultures...and it's our arrogance that has probably slowed our progress in understanding what non-humans are talking about. We're already communicating with animals in simple ways. If we then ask the question how close are we to having a more sophisticated dialogue or exchange with other animals using a shared set of symbols in sophisticated ways, I would say, we still have a long way to go and we're just in the infancy of understanding how to do it. I think it really requires decoding more of what they're doing in their own natural systems and finding ways of incorporating that into what we want to create as a shared code. It's complicated but it's intriguing. Thanks for watching How Close Are We, let us know in the comments what topics you want to cover in future episodes. If you want more How Close Are We, click here to watch our playlist. And don’t forget to like share and subscribe.


Possibility of animal language

Clever Hans performing
Clever Hans performing

The term refers to animals which can imitate (though not necessarily understand) human speech. Parrots, for example, repeat things nonsensically through exposure.[citation needed] It is a form of anthropomorphism to call this human speech, as it has no semantic grounding.

Researchers have attempted to teach great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos) spoken language with poor results as they can only be taught how to say one or a few basic or limited words or phrases or less, and sign language with significantly better results as they can be very creative with various hand signals like those of deaf people.[citation needed] However, even the best communicating great ape has shown an inability to grasp the idea of syntax and grammar, instead communicating at best at the same level as a pidgin language in humans. They are expressive and communicative, but lack the formality that remains unique to human speech.

Modern[timeframe?] research shows that the key difference is the animal's lack of asking questions and that formal syntax is merely a superficial detail, however Alex the parrot has been recorded as having asked an existential question.[1]

There are other differences as well, including poor precision, as shown by Kanzi the bonobo used the lexigram for chase interchangeably with that for get, though this behavior may not be the same for all animals.[2][3] Research supports the idea that the linguistic limitations in animals are due to limited general brainpower (as opposed to lack of a specific module),[citation needed] and that words are created by breaking down sentences into pieces, making grammar more basic than semantics.[4]

Reported cases by species



An owner hears a dog making a sound that resembles a phrase says the phrase back to the dog, who then repeats the sound and is rewarded with a treat. Eventually the dog learns a modified version of the original sound. Dogs have limited vocal imitation skills, so these sounds usually need to be shaped by selective attention and social reward.[5]

  • A dog on America's Funniest Home Videos named Fluffy, made noises that to some viewers resembled "I want my momma" after being asked "Do you want your momma?".[citation needed] Other videos showed other dogs making noises which to some viewers resembling "Run around", "I want it", "I love momma" and "Hello".
  • Odie, a pug who produced noises resembling "I love you" on demand, made appearances on several television shows.[6]
  • Paranormal researcher Charles Fort wrote in his book Wild Talents (1932) of several alleged cases of dogs that could speak English. Fort took the stories from contemporary newspaper accounts.
  • A husky which produces vocalisations that to some viewers sound like 'no' has appeared in the Daily Mail, the Mirror and the Huffington Post, amongst others.[7]
  • In 1715 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz published an account of his encounter with a talking dog that could pronounce about 30 words.[8]
  • Don, a German pointer born around the beginning of the 20th century, was a dog that was reputed to be able to pronounce a couple of words in German and became a vaudeville sensation as a result. Although most scientists at the time dismissed Don's capabilities, the author Jan Bondeson puts forward an argument that Don was genuinely capable of limited human speech and criticises the tests that were performed on Don at the time as having serious methodological flaws.[9]
  • In 1959 a German sheepdog by the name of Corinna living in Prague spontaneously developed a capability for limited human speech. According to the zoologist Hermann Hartwigg, published under the pseudonym 'Hermann Dembeck', Corinna 'holds the record in modern times for its talking prowess'.[10]


  • The case of a cat that was videotaped speaking purported human words and phrases such as "Oh my dog", "Oh Long John", "Oh Long Johnson", "Oh Don piano", "Why I eyes ya", and "All the live long day"[11] became an Internet phenomenon in 2006. Footage of this cat, nicknamed Oh Long Johnson from one of the phrases spoken, was featured on America's Funniest Home Videos in 1998, and a longer version of the clip (which revealed the animal was reacting to the presence of another cat) was aired in the UK. Clips from this video are prevalent on YouTube. The cat appeared as a character in "Faith Hilling", the 226th episode of South Park, which aired on March 28, 2012.
  • Miles v. City Council of Augusta, Georgia, in which the court found that the exhibition of a talking cat was considered an occupation for the purposes of municipal licensing law.


See also


  1. ^ Jordania, Joseph (2006). Who Asked the First Question? The Origins of Human Choral Singing, Intelligence, Language and Speech. Tbilisi: Logos. ISBN 978-99940-31-81-8.
  2. ^ Kluger, J. (2010). "Inside the minds of animals". Time. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. ^ Kluger, Jeffrey (August 5, 2010). "Inside the Minds of Animals". Time.
  4. ^ Francisco Lacerda: A ecological theory of language acquisition
  5. ^ Adler, Tina (June 10, 2009). "Fact or Fiction: Dogs Can Talk". Scientific American. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  6. ^ "the talking pug". Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  7. ^ Thomas, Emma (January 15, 2014). "Defiant husky Blaze hates his kennel so much he learnt how to say no". Daily Mail. London.
  8. ^ Bondeson, Jan (15 March 2011). Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445609645 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Bondeson, Jan (15 March 2011). Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445609645 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ "Willingly to school: How animals are taught". Taplinger Publishing Company. 2017-06-09.
  11. ^ Oh Long Johnson... - talking cat. June 11, 2006.
  12. ^ "Hoover, the Talking Seal". New England Aquarium. Archived from the original on 2012-02-14. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
  13. ^ Josiffe, Christopher (January 2011). "Gef the Talking Mongoose". Fortean Times. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  14. ^ Chris Berry; So-yŏng Kim; Lynn Spigel (January 2010). Electronic Elsewheres: Media, Technology, and the Experience of Social Space. U of Minnesota Press. pp. 39–. ISBN 978-0-8166-4736-1. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  15. ^ "Conversing cows and eloquent elephants". Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  16. ^ "Kosik, Talking Elephant, Attracts Researchers And Tourists In South Korea". Huffington Post. October 11, 2010. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  17. ^ "Study: Male beluga whale mimics human speech". 23 October 2012. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  18. ^ "The Story of One Whale Who Tried to Bridge the Linguistic Divide Between Animals and Humans". Smithsonian Magazine. June 2014.
  19. ^ Is This Goat Talking? | Yahoo News
    In August, Lyndsey Hyde of Tennessee posted a video to Vine featuring a goat that sounds like it is saying "What? What? What?" The 6-second clip went viral with more than 7 million views on the video-sharing app.

External links

This page was last edited on 30 November 2018, at 17:25
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