Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Can't We Talk To Animals?

Hamsters are not known for their linguistic abilities.
As humans, we enjoy the dizzying heights and supremacy of being the so-called superior beings of our planet. Some of the things that separate us from animals are our sentience, our culture, and our languages. That said, it certainly does not stop us from attempting to communicate with our furry friends.

When was the last time you found yourself talking to a dog, not just giving vocal orders but actually greeting them, asking how they are, or even just having a full conversation? Those with the restraint to not have full discussions with their pets will think of us as weird, but it's perfectly natural to humanise animals. Talking to plants apparently encourages them to grow. It's actually the vibrations that cause them to flourish rather than the quality of conversation that will make your prize-worthy turnips real contenders at the County Fair.

It's pretty clear that most animals can't understand the intricacies of our advanced communication, but it is certainly not black and white when it comes to whether or not animals can talk. Dogs don't really understand language, they understand tone. Much like when speaking with your girlfriend, it's not what you say, it's how you say it. They respond to tone and volume rather than distinguishing between phonemes, syntax and lexicon.

Cats have been shown to be able to learn commands and understand them, but since they are perhaps the most self-centred creatures on the planet, they often refuse to acknowledge anyone other than themselves.

Dolphins are also great in a military capacity.
Dolphins are said to communicate via a series of clicks and squawks, but deciphering their "language" has become difficult as they spend a lot of time underwater and are therefore hard to study.

Bees, much like art students, communicate solely through dance. They perform a series of motions in certain directions in order to define the location of pollen.

One scientist has spent years studying and decoding the noises of prairie dogs and the messages encoded in their chirps. Aside from being incredibly cute, it seems the little critters are more than capable of encoding information about potential threats, complete with descriptions and instructions on how to escape. It's hardly Shakespeare, but we may not be so highly elevated above these adorable little creatures.

It may not be a case of animals not having language, but rather us not speaking their language.