The world of animal language
January 2019 by V. R. Duin


In the hot and balmy tropical weather.
Spanish and English came together.
Molly caught sight of her brother, Jim,
And excitedly called out to him.

Dolly the Parrot, a bilingual parrot, shows how to understand animal language and help human language learning of complex communication systems.

A few animals can speak with meaning. Parrots are among these special few. Training a parrot to speak provides stimulation and communication that is not possible with most other animals. Some animals can understand commands in two or more ways. For instance, a dog may understand and respond to “come” and “here”. Imagine the possibilities if humans could learn how to understand animal language. This knowledge might help human language learning. The complex communication systems of animals may be help improve the human language learning abilities of people.

People learn a lot from animals. Animals teach awareness, compassion, patience and responsibility. They can lead people to kind and healthy friendships with other animal lovers. Animals seem to be a good judge of people. People might benefit from a greater understanding of the animal language learning process behind this ability. Some animal senses, such as smell, hearing and vision, are far superior to those of humans. The signals delivered in response to these keen senses serve as alarms. Animals provide people with guidance for investigations and understandings of the environment. They work in search and rescue and as guide animals for people with special needs.

People can reach basic understandings with animals. People appreciate the feelings, emotions and bonds with animals. Animal gestures, movements, facial expressions, sounds and other unspoken communications may be like those of people. This likeness helps guide understandings. Screeching squirrels or dive-bombing birds give clear warning. People and other animals often respond by leaving. Animals may not be interested in fully learning human languages. The tone and pitch of voice may be of greater importance to them. The use of these accents also can help human language learning. Kids learn questions go up at the end. “Going to the store?” Facts are flat. “Going to the store.”

Few people understand the sounds of animals. These communications often are easier to describe than to fully understand. Words for animal sounds are in human languages: chirps, screeches, growls, barks, buzzes and many more. Animals often understand human words, plans, habits and emotions. They may know a leash means it's time for a walk. They may know an open refrigerator means food. They may not need to hear words to respond to actions. Training may improve the relations between pets and their owners. However, people rarely try to learn to speak in animal language. It seems easier to teach animals to understand human language and commands. People are challenged to learn and repeat the signs and sounds made by animals.

Studies are under way to bridge this language gap. Scientists are studying signs, signals and sounds to learn how to understand animal language. Each animal seems to have some form of communication with others of its kind. A study published in the University of Washington news on June 23, 2005 established that Chickadees' Alarm-Calls Carry Information about the Size Threat of Predator. The movements and sounds of one animal may be used for the safety of other kinds of animals. Animals do what best meets their needs.

Animals seem to understand other animals. Researchers are studying the animal language learning process. Studies show that some animals can identify sounds of distress or signals of alarm made by other animals. The listeners react by taking cover or by taking advantage. Lizards use push-ups, head-bobs and other movements to send messages to neighboring males and females. All mammals seem to enjoy the warm caresses and friendly companionship of others. A bilingual parrot can teach people that it understands animal language. Talking birds may help build human language learning skills. This process may be especially helpful for disabled individuals. We mentioned Alex, the African Gray parrot, in the Bird Brains article.

Other animals learn human languages. Some animals can communicate with people in sign language. The death of Koko the Gorilla on June 19, 2018 was a sad loss. She had an amazing human language learning ability. Koko was able to use English words with a form of sign language. People also use sign languages. Other animals may be able to form human words. Animals are smart and creative. However only humans are able to do some things. For example, animals cannot publish, market, promote or sell their inventions in print, audio or digital form.

Animals may communicate with other members of their kind. Dolphins appear to use names to communicate with each other. The names come in the form of different whistles. The animal language learning process and complex communication systems of these mammals may be similar to those of people. People are mammals, too. However, people have an ability for advanced thought processing and learning. Other animals may not have these skills. Animal communications seem to be limited. They may work together for food, mating, safety and shelter. They may store food. Humans store, exchange and develop information. This ability enables people achieve creative and technological advances that are not possible for other animals.

Technology may help people use animal languages. Thanks to technological advancement, machines are being used to translate between written human languages. This makes it possible for people to use other languages without learning them. Machines can help speakers of Spanish use English. Speakers of English can use French or most other languages. The language learning process of machines is advanced. Machines can make predictions based on past experiences with data. Machines are being used to detect sounds for security purposes. They are keeping watch over prisons, health facilities, homes, offices and schools. When needed, people step in.

Can machines teach humans to communicate with animals? Machines are deeply programmed for search, indexing and voice recognition. Machines are able to collect and store the building blocks of animal language intelligence. Machines may become capable of translating or interpreting the complex communication systems of animal language into human words. In the future, machines may show people how to understand animal language. This may later help human language learning, particularly for people with disabilities. The sound recognition ability of machines is highly evolved and may be more accurate than that of humans or other animals.

Which learns better; people or machines? As the human language learning process of machines advances, this is tough to answer. There are arguments about whether machine translation is better than human translation for the written word. Translation involves written words, symbols, signs and marks. This argument carries into quality of interpretations. Interpretation involves exchanges of sounds between different languages. This could include a future exchange of information between humans and animals. A computer can hold and process vast amounts of digital data. Whether the original real-world signals are text, sound or video in nature, that data still must be entered and manipulated by humans. So far, people are better than machines at learning.

Can machines process animal language and human language? The difference between machine and human language processing boils down to quality, quantity and cost. Machines are faster and cheaper than human translators or interpreters. Machines are developing the ability to learn from past experience. Machines can create artificial sounds that trick humans into believing they are real communication signals. Can machines trick animals and promote the animal language learning process, as well? Machines require a human operator to complete tasks. It is not yet clear if machines will develop enough to process animal languages for translation or interpretation between humans and animals.

Which translates better; people or machines? Professional translation done by humans is generally of better accuracy than machine translation. Humans are able to make judgment calls as to context and precise meaning. Machines cannot understand small details in meaning. However, machines may be better at some things. To mimic animal sounds, humans may be challenged. Cats can sound like a crying baby, a screaming adult or a chattering bird. The purpose of these communications may not be clear to humans. Machines may be used to build a data base or these sounds for future translations.

Animal language may not have the depth of human language. The language learning process of machines eventually may decipher distinctive, meaningful animal sounds. Machines may capture the intelligence behind the signs and the sounds of the complex communication systems of animals. Artificial intelligence is rapidly developing an efficient data base for use in collection, interpretation and generation of animal sounds. However, the programs are not fully developed or user-friendly to complete the human and animal language learning process. Human languages have been greatly analyzed. The study of animal languages is only beginning.

Do animals have languages? Before people can understand animal language, it must be known that animals have true language skills. Is there an animal language or do animals just use a system of signaling? Leading dolphin scientists are in dispute. Animal communications may not have evolved into complex communication systems of animal language. There are units of communication among dolphins, per Stan Kuczaj and colleagues. There are there none, per Justin Gregg and colleagues. However, all animals seem capable of communicating and understanding emotions. Animals feel anxiety, pain, joy and sorrow. Some animals may have a conscience and display genuine regret for having eaten the homework. However these animals may not be using a language.

Further studies are under way. Researchers are trying to understand if there is animal language. They are also studying the animal learning process. If animal language is a complex communication system, we can continue to explore the opportunities and potential for human communications with animals. Humans with animal awareness skills can find enriching career opportunities in veterinary health services, animal rescue and wildlife management.

Animal language translation applications are available online. Someday, machines with animal and human language learning ability may bridge the communication gap between humans and animals. Until we learn how to understand animal language, humans can generally communicate feelings to their animal friends, and vice versa. This exchange can be accomplished without the development of a complex communication system between human and animal languages. Some forms of Animal Systems of Communication may not be intelligible.

Help Human Language Learning of Complex Communication Systems

  • Animal Language Learning Process Dolly says:

    Francine “Penny” Patterson and some of her collaborators have documented Koko's human and animal language learning process in a variety of books, peer reviewed articles and on-line information.

  • Complex Communication System Dolly says:

    Constantine Slobodchikoff has spent decades decoding and learning the complex communication systems of prairie dogs, and documenting this effort, down to the distinct dialects of these rodents between countries.

    • Human Language LearningDolly says:

      Author V. R. Duin worked as a translator and court interpreter for many years, so she is particularly interested in the animal and human language learning process.