Friday, January 21, 2011

Non-human Languages

Someone in class last Thursday suggested (excuse me for paraphrasing) that possibly non-humans were limited in their communication to their immediate needs such as, "I'm hungry" or "Go away!" However, tons of research shows that even squirrels have a basic theory of mind (See this article on how common grey squirrels deceive each other by sending false signals)

Elephants, for example, are long-lived social animals that communicate with each other through trunk signals, olfactory cues, and low-frequency vibrations that travels miles without being detectable by human ears. researchers from Cornell University are making strides in compiling an "Elephant dictionary." I bet many of you have heard of elephant funerals, wherein members of a family will linger by the body of a dead relative for days, even returning regularly to the same spot year after year to visit the bones of the deceased. With relationships that last for decades of their long lives, do you think it's possible that elephants could be communicating sentiments more complex than their physical needs? (Click here for CBS article)

And on one more note, sign-language studies on apes have shown that while non-human primates appear to lack the capacity to master the intricacies of human communication, like grammar and syntax, they are able to conceptualize and convey higher levels of communication such as lying, joking, regret, and anticipation. Check out chapter one of "The Education of Koko" on (Click Here) The rest of the site is cool too.

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