Human Languages And Animal Communication Systems

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Human languages and animal communication systems have been studied immensely, and it is intriguing to study how similar animal communication systems, such as those of elephants, are to human languages. Elephants have several methods of communicating, including acoustic, visual, tactile, seismic, and chemical communication (Acoustic Communication). The acoustic method of communication in elephants is most similar to most human language systems, and will therefore be the focus of this paper. First, human language must be defined and parameters must be set for what human language really is. Timothy Jay explains that human language must be communicative, arbitrary, structured, multilayered, productive, and evolutionary (Jay 2). In addition, two more features of human language should be considered when discussing communication systems, which are discreteness and displacement (Hutchins, Class Notes). The first, and probably most basic, feature of human language is that it is communicative. This means that the language can be used to convey ideas with others who are of the same species, and does not necessarily involve words, but rather sounds or gestures (Jay 3). Although ultimately elephant communication is not language, this feature does exist in the communication system of elephants. Elephants produce a variety of noises, including rumbles and barks, that communicate messages to others of their species. There are three different categories of elephant calls: laryngeal calls, trunk calls, and imitated or novel calls (Acoustic Communication). Each of these subsets of calls has been observed to be used when elephants have various emotions, which demonstrates that one elephant can share their feelings with another through communication.... ... middle of paper ... ...ther. Many old science fiction movies depict animals as having languages, and it is particularly intriguing to believe that one day humans could communicate cross-species and understand what animals are thinking. However, several specific aspects of human language are not found in animal communication systems, which disqualifies animals from having language. This does not mean that animals are incapable of interacting with or communicating with others of their species or humans. Trained dogs, for example, are capable of understanding the commands that their owners tell them, and people can generally tell when an animal is angry with them. Certain aspects of human language that make it a language (structure, discreteness, multiple layers, and displacement) are not present in elephant communication systems and therefore it cannot be claimed that elephants have language.

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