Language: Nature vs. Nature

Children are capable to learning and cultivating languages over time into finely tuned accents by early age. We use language every day to communicate our thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It exists around us on every corner, providing (usually needless) information. These languages are incredibly diverse among members of the human species; all with the same goal, communication.

If language is so common among humans, we must necessarily ask if any other natural thing is capable of ‘language’. It would be truly an act of divine intervention if humans beings were the only ones on planet Earth capable of expressing themselves through language. How many, and in what ways might animals possibly be whispering in the backdrop of our everyday sound-scape?

One of our closest relatives is the Silverback Gorilla of the African jungle. These Simeon curiously enough seem to exhibit some basic tendencies of linguistic communication. Amongst many of the chirps and murmurs that may erupt from one of these organisms given any stimulus; when they’re not gathering food or sensing any danger, this happens. Maybe that was hard to catch, or maybe it wasn’t even that decipherable from the background noise. However, overly attentive scientists have recently discovered that these noises are happy little meal-time songs. These gorillas don’t just randomly emit these sounds either, but rather they seem to compose them into fragments or songs. Although maybe not technically a language, these apes certainly seem to be in the primordial phases of developing one based on clicks and hums; and these fragments will eventually become their own song of the ancestors.

Next on our list of potentially-communicable beings are creepy, crawly, and covered in hormonal vomit. Yes ants, those horrible little bugs which steal food from picknick baskets piece by piece. Ants, curiously enough, posses a really gross and really efficient form of communication. These tiny bugs excrete mounds of hormonal goop into eachothers mouth’s as a means of communication. Given the detection of certain hormonal markers; ants are able to communicate a wide array of signals. Most typically used to guide other ants to resources or away from danger, these hormone trails form the foundation of ant-language. Although we can clearly identify certain chemical signals to certain messages, theres no guessing how finely-tuned their senses are. Ants could be communicating all sorts of complex messages, much less thoughts right under our noses!

Even if we take a dip into the big blue we find potentially communicating organisms. Splashing near her surface, the world’s cutest aquatic predator has been squeaking away for eon. Dolphins! These aquatic mammals apparently have a complex language based in high-pitched squeaking and clicking noises. Some theorize that their language goes beyond simple danger/resource signaling, and can even communicate complex thought or perhaps emotions. If their language is capable of transmitting complex thought, then we’ve hit the goldmine. We’re no longer talking about a simple signaling system; but rather a complex fabric shared between its users, composed of juxtaposed sounds each with their own common meaning. Dolphin language is so well structured in fact that we’re beginning to develop computers to translate their speech.

Well it seems like language might not be something unique to the human species. Although they may make funny nonsensical sounds; inversely, those animals must get a laugh out of our ‘totally sensible’ sounds. I’m sure the number of linguistically-capable animals on our list will grow over time as we begin to pay closer attention to them through study. However, until then we’re stuck yelling at the dog until it stops barking.

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One thought on “Language: Nature vs. Nature

  1. Gracias Alberto, aportas un punto de vista muy interesante sobre la comunicacion.
    Me apasiona la idea de desvelar o descodificar la comunicación entre los cetáceos, no sabía que ya teníamos máquinas que pueden empezar a descodificar su lenguaje en tiempo real, pero sus sonidos tal cual son música para mis orejas. Hasta ahora no he tenido el privilegio de escucharlos bajo el agua y en directo, aunque igual un día sucede…

    Tiene pinta de que el lenguaje no es una característica única del ser humano.

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