Did you know that all creatures can communicate – through language?
For example, cuttlefish uses chromatophores, colored skin cells to form different shapes on their skin as a way of hiding or even as a caution sign to their rivals.
Big-handed crabs use their claws as indicators for their good health state or when they want to get intimate with a partner.
While Honeybees communicate through specific moves to inform the other group of bees where exactly they can find good and healthy flower nectars.
These types of communications may be outstanding but can they be considered as a concrete language?
If we look deeply into the language system, according to the linguist Michele Bishop, we can differentiate four particular elements: discreteness, grammar, productivity, and displacement.
Discreteness is the mixture of meaningful linguistic units such as words and sounds with which we can combine whole different words, phrases, concepts, etc.
Grammar is the set of rules by which we formulate these meaningful linguistic units.
Through language productivity, we can generate endless messages.
While displacement helps language to clarify the things that don’t happen in actual time such as past or future events or even surreal or imaginary occasions.
As for the crabs and cuttlefish, these creatures don’t use creative ways of expressions.
They use their signals for the actual communications such as “I’m venomous” or “I am well”.
But, in bee’s forms of communication, we can spot the element of displacement when they move or when they use position, time intervals, or even force in their movements to inform other bees of the placement and the quality of the pollen source.
The same behavior can be spotted on prairie dogs.
They have a lot of predators so when they feel or get attacked they release a form of alarm sound to point out the characteristics of the predator such as their shape, size, speediness, etc.
Some of the best communicators in the animal world undoubtedly are chimps and gorillas.
The famous chimp called Washoe goes to prove how animals can adapt so wisely the element of discreteness.
Washoe has learned to combine a lot of signs with meaningful interpretation such as “Please hurry. Open”.
Another famous ape, Koko “the talking” gorilla, is able to understand more than 1000 different signs and it is capable of comprehending nearly 2000 spoken English words.
Koko was even able to express the grief of the death of her pet kitten.
This type of behavior proves to show the displacement aspect in animal’s way of communicating, though, in both Washoe and Coco’s cases, that is not a way of wildlife communication.
Water animals are capable of such communication as well.
For example, dolphins can be heard using whistles like screeches to express gender, names, locations, or age.
Even though the element of grammar isn’t seen in the dolphin’s way of signaling, they showed that they could partially understand some Grammarly gestural language used by researchers.
Although all these communicative examples on these animals show some of the elements of language, they still cannot demonstrate all four of them.
Comparing human and animal ways of communicating, there’s a huge gap in the meaning of the topic and context of the expression.
Usually, the things that animals mostly conversate about are either food, danger alert, or in the crabs’ case, they mostly talk about themselves.
While humans are capable of forming powerful mixtures of all the elements, grammar, productivity, discreteness, and displacement and create an infinite content of messages.
Humans can understand difficult phrases and never spoken words even.
We use speech to transmit a limitless sort of topic, talk on imaginary subjects or even tell things that aren’t true at all.
On the other hand, studies continue to touch every time and more on the field of animal language and communication.
We might say that the human’s form of language and that of animals aren’t complete strangers to one another, but definitely, they’re coherently co-existent.
This Lesson is by Michele Bishop.