Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals
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"Slobodchikoff's ground-breaking research" (Jonathan Balcombe) shows us that animals have much to teach us about language
Groundbreaking research has been done teaching animals human language, but what about the other way around? Studies have shown that lizards, squid, monkeys, and birds are talking to each other, communicating information about food, predators, squabbles, and petty jealousies. These animal languages are unique and highly adaptive. By exploring them, we come to appreciate the basis of our own languages; understanding or even "speaking" them allows us to get closer to the other species who inhabit this planet with us. The implications of animals having language are enormous. It has been one of the last bastions separating "us" from "them."
Slobodchikoff's studies of the communication system of prairie dogs over twenty-five years have attracted a considerable amount of attention from the media, including a one-hour documentary on his work produced by BBC and Animal Planet.
In Chasing Doctor Dolittle, he posits that the difference is one of degree, not the vast intellectual chasm that philosophers have talked about for millennia. Filled with meticulous research, vivid examples and daring conclusions, this book will challenge the reader's assumptions and open up new possibilities of understanding our fellow creatures.
take evasive action. Interestingly enough, each of these signals is either a single word or a very short phrase. To someone from another planet watching such interactions, they would see little evidence of sentence structure. What we know as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and overall sentence construction are not verbalized; rather, they are implied. And yet, we certainly conclude that these utterances are language. So isn’t it possible that a bark, a howl, a chirp, or even a whistle from
don’t bother to make any calls. But when females are around, it’s a different story. Males then call more often, with a shorter interval between calls, for more preferred foods such as peanuts, and call less often for less preferred foods such as nutshells. Hens call as well. Playback experiments where hens were played food calls have shown that they start looking around for food when they hear the calls. However, if they are already feeding or are in the process of eating some favorite food,
together as groups, the same way that the letters in one of our words occur in a group: for example, “gargle.” Nine such groups have been identified. Other notes occur either before a group (the way that prefixes work in one of our words) or after a group (think suffixes here). So far, some eighty-four different “gargle” types have been identified. Each bird has a repertoire of multiple “gargle” types. In an aggressive encounter, the dominant bird will often vocalize one or two different
efforts in guiding me through the process of writing this book. I also thank my editor, Daniela Rapp of St. Martin’s Press, for her clarity of vision and excellent editing in shaping the structure of the book. I thank my wife, Dr. Judith Kiriazis, for her creativity, ideas, and help with editing the manuscript. Finally, I thank all of my students who over the years helped me decode prairie dog language, spending countless hours in the field and in the laboratory documenting prairie dog behaviors
Dolittle’s Zoo. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1925. _____. The Story of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1920. _____. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1922. 2. What Is Language? Anderson, S. R. Doctor Dolittle’s Delusion: Animals and the Uniqueness of Human Language. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004. Chomsky, N. “Three factors in language design.” Linguistic Inquiry 36 (1) (2005): 1–22. Fitch, W. T., M. D. Hauser, and N. Chomsky.