Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals
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"Slobodchikoff's ground-breaking research" (Jonathan Balcombe) shows us that animals have much to teach us about language
Groundbreaking research has been done teaching animals human language, but what about the other way around? Studies have shown that lizards, squid, monkeys, and birds are talking to each other, communicating information about food, predators, squabbles, and petty jealousies. These animal languages are unique and highly adaptive. By exploring them, we come to appreciate the basis of our own languages; understanding or even "speaking" them allows us to get closer to the other species who inhabit this planet with us. The implications of animals having language are enormous. It has been one of the last bastions separating "us" from "them."
Slobodchikoff's studies of the communication system of prairie dogs over twenty-five years have attracted a considerable amount of attention from the media, including a one-hour documentary on his work produced by BBC and Animal Planet.
In Chasing Doctor Dolittle, he posits that the difference is one of degree, not the vast intellectual chasm that philosophers have talked about for millennia. Filled with meticulous research, vivid examples and daring conclusions, this book will challenge the reader's assumptions and open up new possibilities of understanding our fellow creatures.
western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) to sing two notes at once. Still other species might have specialized body parts evolved just for the purpose of producing signals, such as the structure of cricket wings that allows them to produce sound when rubbed together. Also part of the Discourse System are the structures for the reception of signals. The melon of dolphins is a fatty structure that allows these animals to pick up sound signals under water with such fine-scale discrimination that
for a long time to be the same species of animal, their calls are very different. Red deer are found in Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. They have a roaring call that advertises their aggressiveness toward other males, and they make this call during the mating season when they are guarding a harem of females. Depending on the size of their opponents, the males can vary the base pitch of their roars, making the roars sound deeper when they are faced with a larger opponent. This gradation
number, Hans would tap out the number with his right hoof, and then indicate that he was finished by giving a sharp tap with his left hoof. A number of leading scientists of the day thought that Hans was clever enough to actually read numbers or do arithmetic, until zoologist Oscar Pfungst determined through careful observations that Hans was being cued by the unconscious movements of his human observers. When a question was asked, a human observer would lean forward slightly. Hans used this cue
such as for “banana,” “grape,” “juice,” and “yes.” He was not vocalizing the English words, but was producing different sounds, each of which corresponded with a different English word. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has also been working with two other chimps, Panbanisha and Panzee. Panbanisha is a bonobo like Kanzi, and Panzee is a common chimp, like Sherman and Austin. Both chimps have been kept in the same environment as Kanzi, and have been spoken to in English in the same way that everyone spoke to
Behavioral Ecology 4 (3) (1993): 206–12. Holldobler, B. “Multimodal signals in ant communication.” Journal of Comparative Physiology A 184 (1999): 129–41. _____. U. Braun, W. Gronenberg, W. Kirchner, and C. Peeters. “Trail communication in the ant Megaponera foetens (Fabr.) (Formicidae, Ponerinae).” Journal of Insect Physiology 40 (1994): 585–93. _____., and E. O. Wilson. The Leafcutter Ants. New York: Norton, 2011. Kirchner, W., and C. Dreller. “Acoustical signals in the dance language of