Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals
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"Slobodchikoff's ground-breaking research" (Jonathan Balcombe) shows us that animals have much to teach us about language
Groundbreaking research has been done teaching animals human language, but what about the other way around? Studies have shown that lizards, squid, monkeys, and birds are talking to each other, communicating information about food, predators, squabbles, and petty jealousies. These animal languages are unique and highly adaptive. By exploring them, we come to appreciate the basis of our own languages; understanding or even "speaking" them allows us to get closer to the other species who inhabit this planet with us. The implications of animals having language are enormous. It has been one of the last bastions separating "us" from "them."
Slobodchikoff's studies of the communication system of prairie dogs over twenty-five years have attracted a considerable amount of attention from the media, including a one-hour documentary on his work produced by BBC and Animal Planet.
In Chasing Doctor Dolittle, he posits that the difference is one of degree, not the vast intellectual chasm that philosophers have talked about for millennia. Filled with meticulous research, vivid examples and daring conclusions, this book will challenge the reader's assumptions and open up new possibilities of understanding our fellow creatures.
prepared to raise the issue with the school board. My family doctor was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. He looked at my speech from a more open perspective, and came to a different conclusion from that suggested by the prevailing thinking of the time. In retrospect, this was a valuable lesson. It taught me that experts can be wrong. The speech expert came to a conclusion on the basis of faulty assumptions and no real data. My teachers and the speech expert apparently assumed that
However, low concentrations of IPA and high concentrations of 2-Heptanone tell the bees that they should fly out, but not attack. The different chemical pheromones act as words for the honeybees, conveying semantic meaning as to the kind of response that is required. By varying the concentrations of the chemicals, the bees can give each other precise information about the kind and magnitude of the defense that they have to mount against an attacker, just the same way that we use adjectives and
having to be there to perform the experiment ourselves. Let’s say that we arrive at a remote village in the South American jungle. The people come out of their huts and greet us with a series of clicks using their tongues. We assume that because they are people, they have a language. How do we go about testing whether these people have a moral philosophy of right and wrong, an understanding of the world around them? Easy, you say. We learn their language. Then we can ask them. I reply, well, what
large-scale differences in songs within a breeding population. Songs that were sung some twenty years ago are no longer sung today. The phrases have changed, the timing or the beat of the phrases is different. There are still unsolved mysteries about the songs. One study showed that a population of humpback whales off the coast of Kauai was changing their songs relatively similarly within a single breeding season to another population of whales off the coast of Western Mexico. Even though
animals use similar contact calls to locate and keep track of other individuals in their social group. In fact, we can often hear birds like chickadees or pine siskins doing similar calling out to one another as they move in loose flocks past us through the woods. However, if my wife and I go shopping in Scottsdale, we have to use slightly different signals to keep in touch. In a crowded mall, just calling, “Hello,” isn’t going to work—too many people with whom we don’t want to connect with will