Can Animals Talk?

I posted this in February, soon after I had started my blog. It only got one view! I think that’s because I somehow managed to post another on the same day that got a number of views. I’ve been inspired to repost it thanks to a lovely video from Smorgasbord, Variety is the Spice of Life. Here’s a link to that video showing 3 cats talking. There is also another of 2 cats talking and a 3rd of the response of some kittens to that video.

Follow the link here to watch it.

Anyway, here’s my post.

088CHARLIE1

What is talking?
Talking is using words in order to express a meaning.
What is a word?
A word is a sound, or combination of sounds assigned to a particular thing.

Having set that out I will state that in my opinion, animals can and do talk. Just because they do not talk in such a complicated way as we do does not mean they are not talking.

111rollo1

Take birds, for example. Birds sing. Some birds have songs that are beautifully melodic and musical. Take the British robin for example. He isn’t just singing because at last winter is over and it’s a nice sunny day, so he feels happy. No, he’s saying to all other male blackbirds ‘I’m here and this is my patch, so stay away.’
At the same time, he’s advertising to all female robins that he is a good catch.

Songbirds emit up to 20 different sounds that tell of fear, hunger or alarm an

d warnings to fledgelings. (The Free Dictionary.com)

085bird1

OK, so perhaps that is communicating and not talking. After all, we communicate an awful lot without saying a word, so let’s look a little deeper.

Anyone who had a cat or a dog can usually catch on pretty quickly what their various sounds mean. One meow for ‘I’m hungry’, and a different one for ‘Let me out, I need a pee.’ If your cat always makes the same sound for the same thing, is that not what a word is?

I have no idea what all the sounds made by Herring gulls mean, but they have such a wide variety that I would like to find out if they use them for particular things. I do know that young herring gulls make a little squeaking noise to beg for food from their parents. Is this a ‘word’ meaning ‘food’ or ‘I’m hungry’? It’s not used at any other time as far as I am aware.

wolf1

What made me think of this was something I was reading in a book called ‘Proust and the Squid’ about how we learn to read. It told of monkeys that when danger was spotted, used a particular call for a leopard and a different one for an eagle, the two main predators. They had also combined the two to mean ‘get out of here fast.’
If the sounds are made exclusively for those things, and as I read it, they are, then are they not ‘words’?

An article in ‘Dr Goodword’s Office’ on ‘Can Chimpanzees Speak’ (Alphadictionary.com) decides they cannot. It states that chimpanzees that learned to sign cannot form complex sentences. they would say ‘Give John Banana’ or, ‘Car hit man.’ The writer states that these are not truly speech because there are no morphemes (-ing, -ed, at, I, she etc). I hesitate to disagree with the writer, but I am going to anyway. The chimpanzee is communicating its desires or information using, in this case, signs and not sounds, but I would say it’s talking.
Just because an animal can’t make the same sounds that we do, does that mean it can’t talk? That would be like saying the French can’t talk because they don’t use the same sounds that we do for specific things. (‘chien’ for ‘dog’, ‘livre’ for ‘book’.)

OK, I’ll admit that animals can’t hold conversations in the way we understand them, nor express complex ideas, but they do talk to each other using ‘words’ and we are being rather superior in thinking they can’t talk. Dr Goodword’s Office seems to have the definition of speech as a rather complex achievement, involving sentence structure and all parts of speech.

Your cat ‘tells’ you what she wants by her meow. The pygmy sloth ‘tells’ all around he’s feeling randy by a particular call. (I heard that one on the Radio 4 the other day.) The young herring gull ‘tells’ its parent it wants food by squeaking. If these sounds are used specifically for that particular thing, then it fits the definition I made above of what a word is.

I think it all depends on your definition of talking, and there may be a difference in speech and talk. Perhaps animals can talk, but what they say is not speech.

My conclusion? Animals can talk (but your cat will never make a speech).

If you have wish to make a comment, please feel free to add it to the box. I will get back to you as soon as possible.

22 thoughts on “Can Animals Talk?”

  1. Well done, Jack. If I still had a blog, I’d have re-blogged it. Of course I already knew animals communicate. In fact, I’ve had several that are “telepathic” and have let me see what they see. Oh yes, there are stories I could tell you (and you could blog about.) Communications are feelings, thoughts and emotions as well as sounds, that every species uses, from whales calling deep in the oceans to a mare whickering to a newborn foal. THANK YOU, for this blog. It’s important stuff, this. That’s why you and I write. To tell the important stuff. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind comments. I wish you were still blogging if you have so many tales to tell. I am glad you enjoyed my post, and am delighted my post has struck a chord with so many people.

      Like

  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Humans define ‘Talk’ as ‘speak in order to give information or express ideas or feelings; converse or communicate by spoken words.’
    Most people who deal with animals, or have them as pets, would agree that animals do talk (make specific sounds for specific reasons) and many also use tone, facial expressions, etc – just like humans do.
    It’s just that humans haven’t yet learned to understand them properly.
    Why not join in the conversation in the comments under Viv’s original blog post 😀

    Like

    1. Anyone who has ever had a cat or dog will tell you – of course they can talk! They just don’t attempt human language even though they understand what you are saying. Most cats and dogs use body language…

      Like

  3. I absolutely agree. I’ve owned a number of cats over the years (actually, they owned me) and they all taught me what their various meows meant. They didn’t ask for food or to go out, they demanded. Their slave (me) quickly learned to jump to their tune.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How true. I’ve thought for a long time that we underestimate the intelligence of animals. After all, we are animals ourselves. Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think we are so far above them that they cannot think and communicate? We say that a dog doesn’t understand what we mean when we say things, but only reacts to tone of voice etc, but if you say to your dog the word ‘walk’ and he starts jumping around or gets his lead, does he not understand what that word means? I had a dog that went mad when someone mentioned ‘cat’. We had to spell it! He knew what that word meant.

      Like

    1. I heard a story about a new dolphin introduced to a dolphinarium. He hadn’t started to learn the tricks of the others and so was kept away from them when they performed, but was put with them at night. To the surprise of the trainers, when they came to begin his training, he appeared to know exactly what to do. Conclusion? the other dolphins had told him.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    Viv Sang enjoyed the video the other afternoon of three cats chatting away and has expanded that to explore the sounds that certain animals make to communicate with each other and us… and can we label that ‘talking’ I am sure she would love your views. Certainly Sam made himself perfectly understood..and could say ‘More’ and ‘hello’ and he knew what those words meant.. #recommended

    Like

  5. Hello ,

    I saw your tweet about animals and thought I will check your website. I like it!

    I love pets. I have two beautiful thai cats called Tammy(female) and Yommo(male). Yommo is 1 year older than Tommy. He acts like a bigger brother for her. 🙂
    I have even created an Instagram account for them ( https://www.instagram.com/tayo_home/ ) and probably soon they will have more followers than me (kinda funny).

    I have subscribed to your newsletter. 🙂

    Keep up the good work on your blog.

    Regards
    Wiki

    Like

Please leave a comment and I'll attempt to get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.