What if Animals could speak?
When you think about animal speech there are two different directions that you can take. One has to do with their own language and how they communicate with each other. The other would be what if they could speak to humans so that we understand them and vice versa.
Clearly animals do communicate with each other, so I won’t dwell on that, since that is not a What if… question. But what if they could talk/communicate with humans?
I would like to look at this from different perspectives. One is the way that they do communicate with us, using their own language and other methods of communication and the second being the way they communicate with us using our language, either by us teaching them our language in one form or another, or my fantasies of being able to communicate with animals on a non-verbal intuitive way which you can read about on a previous blog entry: http://www.hdhstory.net/Storyblog/?p=421
Some animal sounds and actions do communicate with short messages. A cat’s different meows; dog’s bark or wag of their tail sends us information of love, affection, hunger, fear; or to use an example from a 4th grade student I was talking to, a crocodile making a hissing sound to warn off other animals from its territory.
We can train certain animals to understand what we’re saying, but that is usually rote training of commands, like sit, heel, play dead, etc. I wouldn’t consider that teaching them a language.
Scientists have attempted to teach apes how to communicate using sign language:
Chimpanzees – Viki (1940’s, 1950’s)Nim, Washoe (1960), Sarah, Lana;
Orangutans – Tilda – Cologne Zoo, Germany whistled, clapped hands, smacked lips, deep-throated human-like garbled sounds (2010), Chantek (1978 – ?)
Bonobo – Kanzi doesn’t use sign language; he uses different combinations of lexigrams, or symbols, to communicate. (1980’s)
Gorilla – Koko (1970’s – present) (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koko_(gorilla))
I found that there are some animals that actually try to mimic human sounds. Here is a sound from a beluga whale named Noc, who started mimicking human sounds while held in captivity:
Now compare that with my son at about 1-½ years old:
If they only could have talked to each other?
I’m pretty sure that this research doesn’t prove in any way that animals can learn to speak our language, or for that matter humans learn to speak, with understanding, like animals. But just think of all the variations that might occur, should that be a possibility. Would all animals have some sort of universal language? If they learned our language would they be native to the places they are living, not to mention would animals of the same species have different dialects? Just check out these interpretations of animal sounds in different countries: https://goo.gl/khNO8n
Also think of the potential benefits and dangers to us being able to cross communicate. What could we learn from them, and them from us? What alliances could be made between us? Think of organizations like the U.N., Red Cross, NATO, etc. What would be the impact of having interspecies search and rescues? You think Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. are bad trying to get along and agree, what about adding thousands of other species into the mix? And what about negative alliances? What would another World War look like? I rather not think about that.
For me, I’ll continue to imagine that I can talk and communicate with animals. I understand what they’re thinking and can be the interpreter for them when needed even though I still have a bit of difficulty in reading some flies, gnats and mosquitoes. I hope they accept my apologies if I’ve misinterpreted their thoughts as death wishes.
On second thought, what if all this time, animals were communicating and speaking to us and we were the ones that refused to learn their languages and respond. I guess that is a What if…? for some other day.