Monday, May 25, 2015

Animals and Language

Do animals have a language? Many humans wonder and ponder over this question for many years. Humans question animals, simply because most wild life do not "speak" or "understand" the human language. There are people who believe animals don't have voices, period. But doesn't the cow say "moo"? or the cat say "meow"? If animals don't have voices, then how can people categorize the sounds that non humans make and what humans don't understand. Just because they tend to make a specific sound, does that mean they have no language? Humans say animals don't understand humans, but that is quite questionable.
When you are pain, you whimper, yelp or even cry. so do animals, they use the same language we do when we are suffering. Yet animals are ignored simply because they don't specifically yell out an "ouch!"


  1. I’m glad you took up the question about animals and language because it is one I have been wondering about too. It seems that many people cite language ability as the major distinction between humans, and other animals. Language is even argued to elevate humans’ value above other animals. I read a paper recently you should check it out!) “The Becomings of Animal Subjectivity” by Vinciane Despret that defines linguistic exchange by the possibility that one subject will misunderstand the other. This is a liberating approach because it reconsiders the assumption that verbal speech is the criterion for language. It is evident that animals communicate within and outside the species they belong to. From this we can understand language as an engagement between two beings that are do not fully understand all intentions, gestures, or utterances of another at the onset of their encounter. Verbal linguists certainly do not understand everything other verbal linguists say. Speakers gain understanding of words by attuning possible meanings. This is done by working with another other to come agreement, or to create new meaning. This practice can happen absent of verbal language. It also suggests the possibility of linguistic exchange without utterances at all. Humans and nonhuman animals can create language through exchanges where understanding is constantly becoming.

    Her argument is more complicated than this, and I may have understood it incorrectly. But, this is what I gleaned from it. It is a worthwhile read either way because it addresses the role language plays in interspecies relationships.

  2. Oops! The paper is called "The Becomings of Subjectivity in Animal Worlds" my bad!

  3. This idea of verbal language was brought up in the Mazes reading about the alien who was captured by humans. The alien (I'm going to assume it's a girl to make it less confusing because the human was a guy) talks about how the human can't understand what she is trying to tell him, even though she tries to communicate with him using her face and body. Even with verbal language a lot of what we communicate to others is through body language or eye contact or facial expression, because that's what allows us to interpret different situations.

  4. This is an interesting point. I have always thought that animals don't necessarily have a verbal language but definitely have means of communication. As you mentioned, A cow says moo and the cat says meow but what does that mean to us? It might mean a lot more to them, and other cows and cats may understand the so called language or sounds. As somebody else has commented, I think it has been quite evident that other species can understand one another. It doesn't matter if it is a moo or a meow, it means something to some animal. Our understanding of the sounds moo and meow may even be similar to their understandings of our English but we may never know. The sounds out of our mouths may mean something to us but it may just be human sounds to them. Maybe animals do have their own language and we just may not know.

  5. I have always thought about this as well. Yes we cannot understand what they are "saying" exactly but that doesn't give humans the right to take advantage of them.We know they feel pain, they are fearful, and experience other emotions.Even though they cannot communicate with us on a human level I feel that the way they express themselves through body language or by the sounds they make, we are able to get the message. How can we expect animals to understand us if we are unable to understand them? Why do we neglect and mistreat them just because we are unable to understand them? Bottom line is that it isn't fair to use animals because we have the power to and they aren't able to communicate their feelings to us in our language.

  6. If animals do have some form of verbal communication, I'm not sure we could ever fully understand it.
    That being said, I do believe that animals communicate, whether it's through body language or subtle facial expressions, or some sixth sense they might have.
    If you take dogs, for example, you'll see that they have a vast variety of means of communicating. They are some of the most expressive species that I've become acquainted with.
    I've seen dogs warily greet each other with a sniff, as well as dogs who growl and snarl at each other at first glance, along with dogs who silently acknowledge each other through eye contact alone.
    Language is not our only means of communication, so why should we limit non-human animals and their abilities to communicate because of their lack of language?

  7. I believe that no matter the species, a means of communication can be created. If you look back at the history of the human race, we have not always had the capability to express ourselves with language. We used the same mannerisms shared above (whimper, cry) as animals. Over time, humans were able to develop speech abilities. Just like over time humans were able to teach gorillas sign language. Maybe over time animals will alter their communication methods into something we can naturally understand. However, we should wait for it to come instead of forcing it for the sake of experimentation.
    I believe that animals are able communicate with each other, despite not being able to speak a complex language. For example, male whales will use their song to communicate with females. Baboons will use grooming as a means of displaying affection. We don't disregard children who are unable to speak fluently when they hug you.
    All forms of communication, whether it be from touch, speech, or smell are valid. No matter the species, communities are able to build and form bonds and I think that's very beautiful.