Are animals able to talk?

Are animals able to speak? Do animals have their own language? How do animals communicate? Are animals able to learn human language? These are questions that people have been asking themselves for a long time.

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"Man is only man through language", Wilhelm von Humboldt once said. By this he did not mean that babies or people with aphasia or general language development disorders are not human beings, but that their general and innate ability to use language makes them human. 

And animals? Really, can't animals speak?

In many stories you find anthropomorphic depictions of animals, in which the animals walk upright and speak a human language. Sometimes these animals also wear clothes. It is clear that this is less often the case in reality. However, when one thinks of talking animals, parrots may come to mind. Parrots can imitate sounds, but they don't really understand human language. They cannot use it creatively, nor can they talk about language, which is, however, one of the essential characteristics of human language. 

In the past, many scientists researched primates and wanted to find out whether they were capable of speaking. First, they tried to teach the monkeys the actual first language of the researchers. In most cases this was English. However, this was not very successful and today it is assumed that the physiognomy of primates is not suitable for the production of human language. 

Psychologist Roger Fouts took a different approach by teaching American sign language to the chimpanzee Washoe. He succeeded amazingly well. Washoe showed that she had an I-consciousness and could actively communicate in sign language and also express her feelings. She was able to combine several signs without being taught the combination. In addition, Washoe also taught her "adopted son", a baby chimpanzee entrusted to her, to sign. She also communicated with him and other chimpanzees in this way. 

Washoe's "language ability" is not without controversy, however. Some researchers considered it to be a form of conditioning and imitation. The whole experiment was also ethically questionable. 

But animals can communicate, can't they?

It is now generally agreed that animals can communicate. Humans can also do this non-verbally. Whether these are "animal languages" in their own right is undisputed.

Perhaps Humboldt's quote above is very anthropocentric and does not do justice to animals. 

Often our pets can understand us and we can understand them. Maybe even without language. 

At alugha we play you videos in different human languages. But we also deal a lot with programming languages. What do you deal with?





Gabriel, Christoph & Meisenburg, Trudel (2007): Romanische Sprachwissenschaft, Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink (08.08.2022, 10:37) (08.08.2022, 10:36)

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