Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Parrots Can't Talk

You've all seen them. Parrots are without a doubt the most devious "language users" on the planet. They mimic the sounds of language but lack the ability to speak.

"Be quiet when I'm talking!
What parrots do when they talk is nothing more than a parlour trick. They respond to cues and replicate sounds that, to humans, are very similar to speech.

When a parrot says "hello" it doesn't understand that it's greeting people. All it does is respond to whichever cue the trainer has designated as "hello" and responded, usually seeking a reward such as a cracker.

Parakeets and budgerigars (you know them as "budgies") are also known to be good at "talking". One budgie known as Puck held the Guinness World Record for largest vocabulary of any bird with 1,728 words. This is a larger vocabulary than the average reality TV viewer.

Amazon parrots, from the rainforest and not the online marketplace, have a reputation for being good at talking. Although several species of birds have the "equipment" necessary to replicate the sounds of speech, they unfortunately lack the brain capacity to understand languages.

"Could you throw me a fish? I'm hungry!"
However, animals do communicate and dolphins famously will chatter to one another and even to Megan Fox, if we are to believe a recent advertisement we saw. It will probably take millions of years of evolution before animals will communicate like we do, as all those with the brains lack the equipment, while those with the equipment lack the brains.

Chimpanzees have been taught to use sign language to communicate and a few have even become famous for it. Koko the gorilla is famous for her skills in sign language and understanding of words but, like most human males, may have used it to get people to show her their breasts.