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A talking animal or speaking animal refers to any form of non-human animal which can produce sounds (or gestures) resembling those of a human language. This is an aspect of animal communication. Many species or groups of animals have developed forms of Animal Communication Systems (ACS for short- see Derek Bickerton for a synopsis of the term) which to some appear to be a non-verbal language. These are not defined as language in the human sense due to a lack of grammar, syntax, [recursion]], and displacement. Studies in animal cognition have been arguably successful in teaching some animals speech or sign, similar to sign language, but not actually defined as such. In the famous case of Koko the gorilla, for example, Koko was unable to break-away from the here-and-now (displacement) in her signs. This among others represent various hallmarks of human language that Koko and similar animals have been unable to achieve.

On imitation and understanding Edit

File:CleverHans.jpg

The term may have a nearly literal meaning, by referring to animals which can imitate human speech, though not necessarily possessing an understanding of what they may be mimicking. The most common example of this would be parrots, many of which repeat many things nonsensically through exposure. It is an anthropomorphism to call this human speech, as it has no semantic grounding.

Clever Hans was a horse that was claimed to have been able to perform arithmetic and other intellectual tasks. After formal investigation in 1907, psychologist Oskar Pfungst demonstrated that the horse was not actually performing these mental tasks, but was watching the reaction of his human observers. The horse was responding directly to involuntary cues in the body language of the human trainer, who had the faculties to solve each problem, with the trainer unaware that he was providing such cues.[1]

On formality of animal language Edit

A "formal language" requires a communication with a syntax as well as semantics. It is not simply sufficient for one to communicate information or even use symbology to communicate ideas. It has yet to be demonstrated that any animal species has developed a formal language, or been able to learn a formal language.

Researchers have attempted to teach great apes (Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and Bonobos) spoken language with poor results, and sign language with significantly better results. However, even the best communicating great ape has shown an inability to grasp the idea of syntax and grammar, instead communicating at best at the same level as a pidgin language in Humans. They are expressive and communicative, but lack the formality that remains such a rarity in human speech.

Howewer, modern research shows that the key difference is actually the animal's lack of asking questions and that formal syntax is merely a superficial detail.[2] There is other differences as well, including poor precision, as shown by Kanzi the bonobo using the lexigram for "chase" interchangeably with that for "get"[3], and there is research supporting the notions that the linguistic limitations in animals is due to limited general brainpower (as opposed to lack of a specific module) and that words are created by breaking down sentences into pieces, making grammar more basic than semantics.[4] The claim that syntax is the key difference between human and animal language is highly dubious.

Reported cases by species Edit

Birds Edit

Main article: Talking bird

Research done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg strongly suggests that parrots are capable of speaking in context and with intentional meaning. Pepperberg's star pupil, Alex the African Grey Parrot, had demonstrated the ability to assemble words out of letters—in other words, to read and spell.

Dogs Edit

  • Internet phenomenon, Mishka the talking Husky,[5] has been trained to say certain phrases, most notably "I love you", and has videos of her saying phrases like "Hello", "NOOOOO", and also has "sung" with the help of AutoTune.
  • Odie (July 9, 1997 - January 31, 2008),[6][7] the talking pug that will say a convincing "I love you" on demand has made appearances on Letterman, The Montel Show, and on AOL's "T.V. top 5".[8]
  • Paranormal researcher Charles Fort wrote in his book Wild Talents (1932) of several alleged cases of dogs that could speak English. Fort took the stories from contemporary newspaper counts, but they are unverifiable at this late date.
  • A French bulldog named "Princess Jacqueline" was reported in US newspapers to have had a speaking vocabulary of more than 20 words, using all of them correctly. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University stated that she possessed vocal chords that resembled that of humans. She was believed to be the "only talking dog in the world" at the time of her death in 1934.[9]
  • See also Nazi talking dogs

Cats Edit

  • A talking cat called Cingene (Gypsy) made Turkish television news on March 20, 1993. The two year old black cat managed to say at least seven words on television.[10]
  • A more recent Internet phenomenon is the case of a cat who was videotaped speaking recognizable human words and phrases such as "Oh my dog," "Oh Don piano", and "All the live long day." Footage of this cat, nicknamed "Oh Long Johnson" from one of the phrases spoken, was featured on America's Funniest Home Videos in 1998, and a longer version of the clip (which revealed the animal was speaking to another cat) was later aired in the UK. Clips from this video are prevalent on YouTube.
File:Tiggy the talking cat.JPG
  • Another recent Internet phenomenon is the cat named Tiggy. Tiggy the Talking Cat (1990 - June 23, 2010) was a unique cat who made a unique talking like noise. Tiggy is from Grimsby, England and was born in 1990; she died on Wednesday 23 June 2010 at the age of 20.
    Tiggy started making this strange noise at around the age of 8 and would only make it when she was alone and out of sight. After years of hearing the noise and never seeing it being made, in May 2007, out of curiosity as to what Tiggy looked like when making this noise (and also to show it to friends who did not believe that the cat could talk), her owners set up a video camera and left it on record in a spot where Tiggy regularly "spoke". Eventually, footage was captured of Tiggy sitting in the hallway making the noise which sounded like "Hello" four times. This video was uploaded to YouTube and was the first Tiggy video.
    In the first Tiggy video, she was quite a distance from the camera, so the owners tried again. The second attempt was a great success with Tiggy walking up to the camera and talking for around 20 seconds. The video captured the second time was also uploaded to YouTube along with the first video and it became a huge hit acquiring millions of views on YouTube, turning Tiggy into an Internet celebrity.
    A further video was then filmed in the same house and uploaded to YouTube in June. No more videos of Tiggy appeared on YouTube until August 2009 when videos of Tiggy playing and talking were uploaded.
    Footage of Tiggy has made its way onto several TV Shows in both the USA and UK. Tiggy's first T.V appearance was in the UK on Channel 4's Richard & Judy show during the "Funny Five" segment of the show, which consisted of 5 funny videos from the Internet being nominated by a different celebrity guest each week; viewers then voted for their favorite online. Tiggy won the Funny Five competition for the 2007 series of the show, and the crew visited Tiggy in her home and presented her with a plaque signed by presenters Richard and Judy. It was Tiggy's appearance on this show that helped make her popularity on YouTube so large that she was featured on the main YouTube page due to the huge amount of views the TV appearances caused.
    Tiggy has then gone on to appear on a number of shows all over the world including: CBBC's Chute!, BBC's Lenny Henry.tv, CMT's Country Fried Home Videos, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and various shows on Animal Planet.

Others Edit

  • Batyr (1969–1993), an elephant from Kazakhstan, was widely published as having a vocabulary of more than 20 phrases. Recordings of Batyr saying "Batyr is good","Batyr is hungry" and using words such as "drink" and "give" was played on Kazakh state radio in 1980.[10]
  • Kosik (1990—present), an elephant able to imitate some Korean words.

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Clever Hans phenomenon. skepdic. URL accessed on 2008-12-11.
  2. Joseph Jordania: Who asked the first question
  3. Inside The Minds of Animals, Times August 16 2010
  4. Francisco Lacerda: A ecological theory of language acquisition
  5. http://www.youtube.com/user/gardea23 "Mishka the Talking Husky"
  6. http://www.thetalkingpug.com/bio.html
  7. http://www.thetalkingpug.com/
  8. the talking pug. URL accessed on 2008-12-11.
  9. "Only Talking Dog in World Is Dead; Spoke 20 Words" The Milwaukee Sentinel, 17 October 1934, p.1
  10. 10.0 10.1 Conversing cows and eloquent elephants. fortunecity.com. URL accessed on 2008-12-11.
  11. Biographical details for Hoover at the website for the New England Aquarium (accessed May 19, 2008).

External links Edit


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