Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize winner and animal psychologist, points out we may mistake some animal communications for speech. For example, a bird may utter an alarm call if it sees a predator. While this alerts other birds in the vicinity to danger, it is not true language because the bird will still utter the call even if there are no other birds nearby who might hear it. The call is merely an evolutionary development.
However, some animals can be taught a certain amount of human speech. Your dog will have acquired a vocabulary of human words and will understand what you mean by them: he will not just infer your meaning from the tone of your voice. However, no dog that I know of has ever actually managed to reply.
Parrots can imitate human words. Sometimes, they can actually understand the meanings of these words. Famous in this respect was an African gray parrot called Alex who was said to be able to say 100 words and apparently to understand them. He even coined a new word bannery for an apple, by apparently combining the words banana and cherry. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 30, young for a gray parrot, and may not have realized his full potential. Another gray parrot, Nkisi, was said to understand 950 words and to know how to change tense. When he met Jane Goodall he asked her, "Got a chimp?"
Studies by A. Turkaio have indicated a similarity between elephant calls and human speech. Batyr, an elephant in a Kazakhstan zoo, was said to be able to utter a number of human words with comprehension.
Amongst primates, Koko, a gorilla, was able to learn 1000 signs in American Sign Language. She also kept kittens as pets. Michael, another gorilla, mastered a vocabulary of 600 sounds. Kanzi, a bonobo, was able to learn to communicate by means of a lexigram. His vocabulary was 200 words.
Research of this nature continues. Where it will end, we cannot say at this juncture. Perhaps eventually some animal will end up able to communicate animal perspectives fluently with us. Watch this space.
|African Gray Parrot|
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