Animal Languages – The Forms They Take


Animals communicate with humans using animal languages. The animal languages are modified versions of early human language itself only that animals lack the complexity and are less expressive.


Let's dive right in.


A Breakdown Of Animal Languages


Great ape language is a means to communicate among apes such as bonobos, orangutans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. Humans communicate with these animals using sign language, lexigrams, yerkish and physical tokens.


Jacques Vauclair, Francine Patterson and David Premack are well-known researchers in great ape language.


Sign Language


Humans have used sign language for a very long time. One of the important sign languages used by humans is American Sign Language. Animals also use signs to express their feelings and for communication sake in addition to their animal languages.


Vocabulary words have been taken from American Sign Language to communicate with the apes. Lexigrams are symbols, which represent something. The symbols are laid down on a flat board called the lexigram board.


Lexigram Board


The lexigram board has three panels with three hundred and eighty four keys. These boards are especially used to communicate with chimpanzees and bonobos.


Yerkish also involves a keyboard with punch keys, which have the lexigram symbols. It is actually an artificial language. Computer keyboards are also used to aid animals as most of them can be easily trained for keyboard operation.


Plastic Tokens


Plastic tokens are also used for communication with apes. The apes select a specific token when they want to communicate something. The animal is given training to select the right token. Tokens have symbols or pictures.


Not all the apes learn this method of communication properly. During the training, the animal is made to learn by rewarding them upon an achievement.


Animal Languages and Vocals


Although animals lack vocal cords and speech organs like humans, some animals have vocals of their own. Wild apes are known to talk to each other to make the other aware of a possible danger. Animal languages do not have discreteness like human languages.


In human languages, discrete units are combined together to make a new word with a meaning. So signs or sounds, in animal languages, cannot be combined to form another sign or sound, which means something.


Requirements for Animal Languages


But researchers have proved that animal languages do meet certain requirements. But the validity is still debated upon by many and that is the reason why animal languages have not been given the status of a true language.


People have questioned the practice of great ape language. The researchers try to understand whether the use of this language aids the animals to solve their problem better. Also, whether the teaching experiences with a primate can be of use when human children are taught.


Difference in Abilities


This is because there is without doubt a difference in the abilities of animals and humans, while they may be similar at some level. Some say that the apes do not actually understand the language, but instead do a clever trick to get a reward.


Also some researches say that the signed gestures do not make a grammatically right sentence. The arbitrariness is sometimes missing, that is, there is no clear relationship between the signs or sounds.


They Can Understand


Many animals have behaviors, which are similar to what we speak. They can understand the language, they can also use it to reflect their thoughts and communicate with a human. Other than primates, animals such as sea lions and dolphins also use sign language and animal languages to communicate with humans.


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