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Chapter1. DOCTORDOLITTLEANDANIMALLANGUAGE Doanimalshavelanguage?Whentheymakesounds,aretheyreallyspeaking?Canyouimaginehow theworldwouldchangeifwefoundoutthattheyreallydohavesomethingtosay?Peoplehave longbeenfascinatedwiththeideathatanimalscantalk.Ihavebeeninterestedinthisideafora longtime,whichhaspromptedmetospendmanyyearsdecodingthelanguageofprairiedogs throughexperimentsinthefieldandthelaboratory.Asfarbackas2,500yearsago,Aesopsfables featuredanimalstalkingtooneanother.Eventoday,wemightwatchtwodogsbarkingandthink thattheymightbetalkingabouthowstrongandfiercetheyare,ortheymightbetellingeachother aboutthehumanstheyhavetolivewith.Wehavelongedtoknowifthereisanymeaningbehind thebarks,meows,whistles,raisedfeathers,chemicalsprays,andalltheotherelementsthatare groupedbyscientistsintothegeneralcategoryofanimalcommunication.Whenourcatlooksupat usandmeows,wouldntitbewonderfultoknowwhatthecatmeans?Andwhenwetellourdarkest secretstoourdog,wouldntitbewonderfultoknowthatourdogreallyunderstandsuslikeno humanfriendcould?

?ThisistheDoctorDolittlefantasythatwecanlearntodecodeanimalsignals andfindthatunderneath,thereislanguagewecanunderstand. InthebooksbyHughLofting,DoctorDolittlelearnedtointerpretthewhistles,grunts,groans,and bodyposturesofdifferentanimalspeciesfromhisparrot,Polynesia,whoinherlonglifeofmore than160yearshadlearnedallanimallanguages.ShedictatedtoDoctorDolittleacomplete dictionaryofallofthewordsthatanimalsuse,tellinghimthateachspeciesofanimalhasitsown language,butalloftheanimalscanunderstandoneanotherslanguages.Withthatdictionary, DoctorDolittlewasabletospeaktohisdog,toapig,towhitemice,tomonkeys,andtoavarietyof otheranimals,leadinghimontomanyadventuresaroundtheworld. Inthisbook,IinviteyoutobeDoctorDolittle.Daretoimaginethatanimalssaymeaningfulthingsto oneanother.LetmeplaytheroleofPolynesiawhileIshowyouthemanysignalsthatanimalsuseto increasetheirsuccessatlocatingfood,tellingfriendfromfoe,escapingdanger,andfindingamate. Afterreadingthisbook,youmightnotbeabletosetupapracticelikeDoctorDolittles,butyouwill haveamuchbetterideaofwhatanimalsmayreallybesayingtooneanother. Letmebeginbyexplainingthatmyusingthetermanimallanguageisequivalenttowavingared capeinfrontofabullformanyscientistsandacademics:Itsverycontroversial.Thatsbecause, accordingtomanyscientistsandlinguisticprofessionals,languageisthelastgulfthatseparatesus fromalloftheotheranimals.Overtime,alloftheotherbarriershavefallenbythewayside.Nottoo longago,peoplethoughtthatweweretheonlytoolusers,theonlyoneswithculture,theonlyones withasenseofself.Allofthathascrumbledaswehavefoundoutmoreandmoreaboutother animals.Wecantevenclaimthatwearetheonlyoneswithwarfarewhoindiscriminatelykillone another,becauseantshavebeendoingthatformillionsofyearsbeforeus.Soallwehaveleftto clingtothatmakesusspecialandseparate,thatsetsusapartfromalloftherestofthenatural worldislanguage. Inmyview,thatseparatenessdoesnotexist.Weareallpartofthenaturalworld.Wearethe

productofthesameevolutionaryprocessthathasshapedeveryspeciesonearth.Ibelievethat animalsmighthavelanguagesthataredesignedtofittheirneeds,justhaswehumanshave languagesthataredesignedtofitours.Wesimplydontknowenoughaboutthelivesofanimalsto makethesweepingassumptionthatlanguageisoutsidetheircapabilities.Tostudyanimal communicationsystemsmosteffectively,weneedtobeabletounderstandtheworldfromthe animalspointofview,andthecontextmaynotyetbeapparenttousbecauseitmightbetoosubtle forustorecognizewithourcurrentlimitedsenseofunderstanding. Theideathatanimalshavelanguageisfrighteningtosomepeople,butitisalsoempoweringto animals.Whenpeoplefindoutthatananimalspecieshasalanguage,theyoftenlookatthatspecies inamorecompassionateway.TheprairiedogsthatIhavestudiedformanyyearsareconsideredby manypeopletobepestsandvermin,suitableonlyforeradication,despitethefactthattheyarea keystonespeciesingrasslandecosystems,whopropupsometwohundredothervertebratespecies thatdependtoagreaterorlesserextentontheactivitiesoftheseanimals.Injustonehundred years,humanactivitiesandadiseaseintroducedbyhumanshavecausedprairiedogstodeclineto about2percentoftheirpreviousnumbers.Manypeoplewouldliketoseethat2percentdeclineto 0,despitethefactthatitwouldriptoshredstheecologicalfunctioningofgrasslands. ButwhenItellpeoplethatprairiedogshaveasophisticatedlanguage,opinionschange.Ihavegiven anumberofpresentationstocitycouncilsandcitizengroupsaboutboththeecologicalvalueand thelanguageofprairiedogs,andwhatreallycausesthemtorethinktheirattitudesaboutthese animalsisthelanguageaspect.Itsasiftheysuddenlystarttoempathizewiththiscreature,notas somekindofmindlesspestthatisbentondestroyingagriculturalcropsandgrassintendedfor cattle,butasaliving,breathingpartnerinthenaturalworldthatsurroundsus.Andwiththat realization,peoplearefarmorewillingtoextendtheopportunitytoprairiedogstocoexistwith humans.Insteadofpoisoningorshootingtheanimals,theysuddenlybecomereceptivetoother alternatives,suchasrelocatingthemtoplaceswheretheyarenotinterferingwithhumanactivities. Changingourattitudesinordertorebuildthebridgelinkingourspecieswithotherspeciesisarisky businessbecauseofitsenormousimplicationsonourownattitudesandbehaviors.Wemighthave tostartlookingatanimalsinadifferentlight,butitispossibletodoso. However,evenwithachangeinattitude,thatstillleavesthechallengeofhowtodesignscientific experimentstodeterminethelanguagecapabilitiesofanygivenspecies.Ifwebackofffromour initialjudgmentsaboutanimalsandopenourselvestothepossibilitythattheydontjustsignal,but theyactuallymighthavealanguage,howdowedesignexperimentsthatwouldallowusto determinewhetherornottheydo? Lookingforlanguageinanimalsinvolvesquestionsaboutwhethertheyhavesomeawarenessof themselvesasindividuals,becauseoneofthemaindrivingforcesintheuseoflanguageisitspower toaffectthebehaviorofothers,usuallytotheadvantageofthespeaker.Manyspeciesmakesignals, butaswewillsee,someofthesesignalsarehardwiredinananimalsgeneticcodeandaregiven involuntarilywhenthepropercuetriggersthem.Otheranimalspeciescandecidetoproducesignals thatarespecifictodifferentcontexts.Wetendtothinkoflanguageassomethingthatisjustverbal, butmyviewoflanguageincludesavarietyofsignals,suchasbodyposturesandmixesofchemical odors.Onceweopenourselvestothepossibilitythatanindividualanimalhasthecapabilityof distinguishingitselffromtheotheranimalsaroundit,thenwealsoopenthedoortotheideathat animalsmightactuallyintendtocommunicatewithoneanother.Itisthisintentionalitythat separatesmeresignalingfromlanguage.

Fortunately,attitudesaboutanimalsarenowstartingtochangeandmanymorescientistsare willingtoascribeemotions,personality,andindividualitytoatleastsomespecies.Anditturnsout thatoncewelookatanimalswithanopenmind,wecanfindalotofevidencetoshowthatthey intentionallycommunicatewitheachother,deliberatelyselectingthebestsignalsintheirrepertoire totransmitalotofinformationabouttheworldaroundthemandoftenusingtheirsignalsto influenceothers. ItsmycontentiononethatIwillexpanduponinthisbookthatthosecommunicationsystems canbeconsideredlanguage.Toavoidthebarriersandpitfallsthathavestalledanimallanguage debatesupuntilthistime,Iamdrawinguponmyextensivescientificexperienceinstudyinganimal behaviortopresentanewtheoryoflanguagetheDiscourseSystemthatshowshowlanguageis partofaseriesofstructuralandphysiologicaladaptationsthatanimalshaveforcommunicating informationtoothers.IwillexplaintheDiscourseSysteminmoredetailinchapter3,butitschief highlightisthatittakeslanguageoffitsetherealcloudassomesortofangelicgiftgrantedonlyto humans,andplacesitbackwhereitbelongsaspartandparcelofafunctioningphysiologicaland structuralsystem,asystemcommontomanyspecies. Althoughdowntheroad,manyspeciesmayeventuallyprovetohavelanguage,wehavetokeepin mindthattheselanguagesneednotbethesame,orevenoperateinthesameway,asours.(Even DoctorDolittleknewthis!)Thisisbecause,asIemphasizewhenItalkabouttheDiscourseSystem, languagecanbeshapedbyevolution.Assuch,ourlanguageevolvedtomeetourecologicalneeds, justasotheranimallanguagesservetheecologicalneedsofotherspecies. AfterIexplainsomeofthecharacteristicsoflanguageandsharemyDiscourseSystemTheory,Ill takeyouonatourofthesituationswhereanimalsuselanguageinavoidingdanger,feeding, mating,fighting,andgreeting.Theseexamplesarebasedonmyownjudgments.Therearehardly anystudiesdonethatexplicitlysaythattheyaredealingwithanimallanguage,simplybecausethe prevailingscientificparadigmisthatitsnotpossibleforanimalstohavelanguage.Afterall,if somethingdoesntexist,whyshouldanyonetrytostudyit?ButIbelievethatsomeonehastostand upandposethepossibilitythatanimalsmighthavelanguage.Wehavetogetoffourhuman dominatedpedestalsandbegintoopenourmindstotheideathatwehavemoreincommonwith otherspeciesthanwedliketothink.Languageisthelastbastionseparatingusfromallotherliving beingsonearth,andIsay,letshaveagoatbreakingdownthatwall.DoctorDolittle,herewecome! FromChasingDoctorDolittlebyConSlobodchikoff,Ph.D.Copyright2012bytheauthorand reprintedbypermissionofSt.MartinsPress,LLC.