Can animals speak?
Video credit: JHawx, “Einstein the bird” November 25, 2009, via YouTube.
Have you ever heard of birds or other representative of fauna that can speak?
In this video, you can see a bird that can say several words and phrases. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand them; however, they are still quite intelligible. The question is: Can animals speak?
This video may not provide the answer. However, some research has been done om this question. An interesting experiment was conducted: a parrot was trained to say something like “it’s nice weather”. However, when the weather was nasty, the parrot was still pronouncing the same phrase. This confirms that the parrot did not really understand what it was saying, but was rather imitating sounds.
Similar studies involving apes have been conducted by anthropologists. Some scholars trained apes to distinguish and reproduce dozens of gestures (e.g. Scupin, pp. 84-86). However, the trained apes used gestures only in exchange for food or in response to similar stimuli. Moreover, they were using gestures only when they were asked by their trainers to do so rather than using gestures in communicating with other apes or human beings.
Therefore, even if animals are trained to reproduce sounds or gestures similar to those used by people, these sounds or gestures by animals remain only imitations rather than conscious use of these communicative means. Language, thus, remains exclusively human means of communication. It is worth mentioning, however, that animals do use their “own” language. For example, birds can sing to attract other birds, to prevent them of danger, or let them know about a source of food.
Scupin, R. (2012). Cultural anthropology: A global perspective (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.