• Question: do animals have their own language??????????

    Asked by 424evoa39 to Anthea, Chloe, Kevin, Sean on 19 Nov 2014.
    • Photo: Chloe Kinsella

      Chloe Kinsella answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      In the dictionary, the word language is described as “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way”.

      If language is viewed only as a system of communication, then many species communicate. My dog Minnie communicates with me as she makes certain sounds and or changes her body language when she is hungry or when she wants to go outside. When Minnie comes across another dog in the park, she quite often licks them or smells certain body parts. This is an example of how animals communicate with each other. But as they are not using words in a structured way, its not really what we call a language. A birds call, a dolphins squeak, or an elephants trumpet are all ways that animals communicate. Different sounds can mean different things, for example “dinner time” or “watch out there is a predator coming!”. Scientists have spent years listening to recording of animal sounds to try and figure out what each call represents.

      Now you might be thinking to yourself, parrots can talk! Parrots dont actually use language like we do. Young parrots and other birds, like human babies, learn to speak or sing through imitation. If you have a baby brother or sister you mightve heard them babbling away to themsleves. They are imitating what they hear. Parrots that live around humans also imitate what they hear. So make sure you dont complain about your parents if you have a pet parrot, because it might imitate what you said and get you in trouble 🙂

    • Photo: Sean Kelly

      Sean Kelly answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      It’s impossible to say if all animals do, but yes, many animals do have their own languages. And I’m not just talking about parrots mimicking peole and saying “Polly wanna a cracker”. From what we currently know, other animal languages aren’t as complex as ours, but they are languages none the less! Lots of birds have their own languages. For example, some species use alarm calls when there are predators nearby. These calls can let those around you (and even individuals of other species) know that there is a predator nearby, but also let the predator know that it has been spotted and a surprise attack won’t work. The amazing thing is that birds can use different alarm calls depending on what the predator is and where it will attack from. They might give one alarm call if an eagle is nearby (which would attack from the air) and a completely different call if a snake or other ground predator is nearby. Lots of primates have their own languages too, making different sounds to one another depending on the context (e.g. whether they are happy and relaxed or angry and threatening).

      However, animals can also communicate without using sounds. For example, honey bees do a special dance (known as a waggle dance) when they return to the colony to tell others what direction the food is in, how far it is and how good it is. They don’t actually speak but they still communicate important information to one another. Cuttlefish can also communicate with one another by changing the colour of their skin (and amazingly they can use different colours on different sides of their bodies, so on one side while they might be trying to woo a mate with pretty colours, on the other side they look normal, fooling their competitors). Also a lot of animals use scent to communicate. This is probably most famous among members of the cat and dog families who urinate to mark their territory (telling others to stay away). These scent cues can also give out information about whether an animal is ready to mate.

      So animals can use language by making noises, using their bodies (as we do for sign language) and using scent.

    • Photo: Kevin Healy

      Kevin Healy answered on 19 Nov 2014:

      While lots of animals clearly communicate with clear signals like I’m hungry or go away, language is a lot harder to find. There are lots of examples of differnt noises or body movements meaning things (even bees can communicate with each other by dancing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waggle_dance) but not so many were things like sentences can be formed or “words” handed down between generations.
      The closest thing to a languge that I know of is in dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins have thier own voice, can communicate about places, situations and when two groups meet the two leaders will go up and chat to one another obviously sorting each other out. The best example however is were a mother was able to communicate with her baby over a telephone with both individual recongnising the other. Scientists are actually trying to decode what dolpins are saying and while there is still debate as to whether it qualifies as an actual languge I think it is as close to one as we are going to find!