Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Communication, language, speech and the Google Translate for Animals app

While sitting in the garden and enjoying the Spring sun, I can hear the animals around me. They may be able to hear us too. Would they assume that the human sounds are just random sounds without any meaning? Obviously I’m joking now as I said in one of my earlier blogs that having a mind and thoughts is exclusive to humans. Speech is within the brain, not the mind. Animals have brains too.

To be honest I was amazed by the lack of information on Wikipedia (human-animal communication) and disappointed by the lack of progress on this topic. I did find a funny Google UK promotion video on YouTube for a Google Translate for Animals app.

So why do we assume that animals do not speak? If we assume they do then why don’t we do any effort to understand them? If we do effort then why is that effort so minimal? Why are we not interested in what they would like to share with us? Why are we so interested in researching “dead” objects rather than “living” objects?

Fear might be the answer.

Fear for becoming vegetarians when we would be able to understand animal speech. If plants could communicate to us then we might even starve to death. Fear for being less special in Earth’s nature than we assume to be. If animals were to have a language then what separates humans from animals? Just the invisible mind and its thoughts? Fear for animals claiming political rights? As far as I’m aware of, only The Netherlands has a political party that is solely for animal rights.

Some domestic animals (e.g., cats and dogs) succeed in communicating their feelings and needs, both to each other and to humans. To what extent is their communication like, or unlike, human communication with language?

Using sign “language” to communicate is typical for animals that have arms. Animals with 2 arms are called primates a.k.a. apes or monkeys. Nearly all animals use 4 limbs to move. Only humans, gibbons and large birds walk by raising one foot at the time. Interestingly, some other animals that used to have “arms” were the bipedal dinosaurs (e.g., Raptors, T-Rex).

Language is something entirely different from communication, signs or speech. All our languages are taught by parents and then for many years in schools. Languages use concepts / dimensions like time (i.e., past, present and future) and space (e.g., length, width, height, distance, place). Such concepts require a mind rather than a brain. Communication, signs, speech is a function that is most likely genetically stored in brains while languages have been developed in and by human minds.

In language teaching and learning, no one would deny that learning a language involves developing a knowledge (even if it is only subconscious) of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. Defining ‘language’, however, is by no means simple – which is why it is avoided in many textbooks and dictionaries on the subject.

It seems clear that we are unlikely to ever fully communicate with other species the way we do with each other.


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