Will animals ever talk?
Hopes&Fears answers questions with help of people who know what they are talking about. Today we wondered, will Fluffy ever wax existential?
About 11,000 years ago, humans domesticated animals, and we still have no idea what to say to each other. While man’s best friend can respond to thousands of commands— far more than “paw,” “roll over,” “play dead”—humans have done very little to understand them, interpreting barks as signs of hunger, distress, or worse “Timmy’s trapped in the barn again.” Dammit, Timmy. The truth is, animals are speaking, we’re just not listening. From “barks” and “meows” to physical behavior and scent, animals try to get our attention; we’re just ignoring them.
This might not be the case for much longer. Scientists around the world are developing technology for interspecies communication, such as vests for service dogs, that can call for help when their handler is in trouble, and sensors that alert doctors when cancer-sniffing dogs have found something. Of course, some believe that animals have been talking the whole time—we’re just only starting to hear them. Thanks to some new research and understanding, human/animal relations may be changing, so while we may ask “will animals ever speak?,” a better question might be “will we ever listen?"
Dr. Con Slobodchikoff
Professor Emeritus Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University; Director, Animal Language Institute; President and CEO of Animal Communications Ltd.; Author, Chasing Doctor Dolittle
In my book, Chasing Doctor Dolittle, I show that we have an enormous amount of evidence already that animals do have language. And in terms of dogs and cats, their language is primarily of two types; one is body language, the other is vocalizations. In terms of both of those, I think that it’s really feasible, now with current technology, to build a device that would allow us to monitor the body language and vocalizations, and have the device translate for us what the dogs or what the cats are saying. Then, I think that a somewhat harder problem, but not impossible, is to also have the device say something that we want to tell the dogs or cats and have the device translate that into dog language or cat language.
Dogs, for example, are very good at learning our language, and they're much better than we are at learning their language. For example, there’s a dog named Chaser, a border collie, who knows upwards of a thousand words in English. There’s a border collie in Germany who knows somewhere around 300 words in German. So they're really very good at that. They’re really very good at reading our facial
expressions also. We’re the ones who are lagging behind in terms of figuring out what they’re talking about. So I don’t think that they need to evolve. I think what we need to do is adapt our technologies so we can understand what they’re saying.
I’m actually working with some people trying to build a device that would allow us to talk to dogs, and I think that we have the technology now to be able to do that. All that it would take is money and a little bit of cleverness.
Right now, we see animals, if we even bother to look at them, as either property or as annoyances or as pets. I think that if we can learn how to talk to animals, in particularly, if we understand that they’re capable of talking to each other and talking to us, I think that this will change the world, and we will start seeing animals as partners in the natural world.
Dr. Stan Kuczaj
Director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory
“Ever” is a long time, and so who knows if animals other than humans will ever talk? Perhaps we should ask why animals would evolve speech patterns that humans can understand. Is our understanding that important to them? Would doing so increase their fitness? I suspect not. A better question concerns animal communication in its own right. Will humans learn to understand an animal’s communication system from its species’ point of view rather than our own?
Dr. Brian Leander
Departments of Zoology and Botany, University of British Columbia
The question “will animals ever speak?” is not clear to me — there is just too much variation to consider—animals of all kinds communicate in all kinds of ways. Nonetheless, a jellyfish will never speak Spanish—a spider will never speak Cantonese. Humans do a pretty good job at communicating with our nearest relatives (e.g., birds and mammals with similar social systems) but (other than a few examples of mimicry) there is no reason to expect non-human animals to adopt our vocalization patterns. For the same reasons, I wouldn’t expect you (or anybody else for that matter) to ever have the ability to approximate the vocalizations of a grey whale with your own voice.
Founder of The Gurney Institute of Animal Communication
They already do. They telepathically communicate—they communicate through images, thoughts, feelings, and they can share the physical sensations they are experiencing in their bodies as well, and that’s why we can work with veterinarians when they need help understanding how the animals are actually “feeling” in their bodies. They have a language all of their own, and we can learn that language. It would just be like people learning how to speak French or Italian. So everybody has the ability to talk to animals, it just depends on whether they choose to, and if they do, then they need to take a class, like they would learning to speak a foreign language. So, yes, they already do speak.
If people open up [and] realize that animals do have thoughts and feelings, and open up to that and want to learn that language, then yes, all of us will be able to speak back and forth. But it just depends on, will people accept who they are and be willing to learn that language, just as if they adopted a child from another country and the child didn’t speak English. They would have to learn to speak that language and help the child learn to speak English.
People treat animals as, you know, they’re here for physical entertainment, and they’re not. They’re just like we are. Animals experience the same range of emotions that we do; they’re no different. The only difference is they’re just in different bodies. So it’s really, who’s holding it back, people, because the animals are here, ready to talk, share their feelings, and what’s going on. It’s just a matter of people waking up to learn that language.
Top Grossing Talking Animal Movies
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Alvin and the Chipmunks
Source: Box Office Mojo