Ask Cecil for the Straight Dope on the subject. I pretty much agree with his conclusion (“I’ve seen nothing to persuade me that animals can use language as we do, that is, as a primary tool with which to acquire and transmit knowledge”), but then I’m a linguist, so I would. (Via Linguistiblog.)


  1. My mother in law’s parrot calls the cats to his cage by imitating her dinner call for them and then he flings seed at them. He says”KITTIES TIME TO EAT!” and they come expecting food and then he ambushes them.

    Now think about this for a moment. A bird using English to call cats who undertsand what the word means, so as to ambush them. One species using the language of another species to communicate with a third speicies.

    Like a whale using birdsong to call a mosquito.

    It still boggles my mind. I’m not saying it’s the same as “using language the way we do” but it’s pretty cool nonetheless.

  2. Hmmm. Very interesting one. Our resident household psycho-linguistics-person is perhaps the exception which proves the rule cited: “Linguists, on the other hand, dismiss the whole thing as nonsense.” If you can call him a linguist. He loves Kanzi.

    Great story Chris! Of course you remember that it was Polynesia the parrot who taught Dr Doolittle how to talk to the animals…

    And speaking of parrots, as Chris was, what about the lovely Alex and his friend Dr Pepperberg? He’s one clever talking bird.

    But yes, it all boils down to how you define language. Our resident household p-l-p contends that Kanzi shows the same communicative ability as a 2-year-old human child. And he defines the way that 2-year-old children communicate as language. In a nutshell.

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