Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • All animals communicate.

  • Crabs wave their claws at each other to signal that they're healthy and ready to mate.

  • Cuttlefish use pigmented skin cells called chromatophores to create patterns on their skin that act as camouflage, or warnings to rivals.

  • Honeybees perform complex dances to let other bees know the location and quality of a food source.

  • All of these animals have impressive communication systems,

  • but do they have language?

  • To answer that question,

  • we can look at four specific qualities that are often associated with language,

  • discreteness,

  • grammar,

  • productivity,

  • and displacement.

  • Discreteness means that there is a set of individual units, such as sounds or words

  • that can be combined to communicate new ideas,

  • like a set of refrigerator poetry magnets you can rearrange to create different phrases.

  • Grammar provides a system of rules that tells you how to combine those individual units.

  • Productivity is the ability to use language to create an infinite number of messages.

  • And displacement is the ability to talk about things that aren't right in front of you,

  • such as past, future, or fictional events.

  • So, does animal communication exhibit any of these qualities?

  • For crabs and cuttlefish, the answer is no.

  • They don't combine their signals in creative ways.

  • Those signals also don't have to be in a grammatical order,

  • and they only communicate current conditions like, "I am healthy," or "I am poisonous."

  • But some animals actually do display some of these properties.

  • Bees use the moves, angle, duration, and intensity of their waggle dance

  • to describe the location and richness of a food source.

  • That source is outside the hive,

  • so they exhibit the property of displacement.

  • They share that language trait with prairie dogs which live in towns of thousands

  • and are hunted by coyotes, hawks, badgers, snakes, and humans.

  • Their alarms calls indicate the predator's size, shape, speed

  • and, even for human predators, what the person is wearing

  • and if he's carrying a gun.

  • Great apes, like chimps and gorillas, are great communicators, too.

  • Some have even learned a modified sign language.

  • A chimpanzee named Washoe demonstrated discreteness

  • by combining multiple signs into original phrases like, "Please open. Hurry."

  • Coco, a female gorilla who understands more than 1000 signs

  • and around 2000 words of spoken English,

  • referred to a beloved kitten that had died.

  • In doing so, she displayed displacement,

  • though it's worth noting that the apes in both of these examples were using a human communication system,

  • not one that appeared naturally in the wild.

  • There are many other examples of sophisticated animal communication,

  • such as in dolphins

  • which use whistles to identify age, location, names, and gender.

  • They can also understand some grammar in a gestural language researchers use to communicate with them.

  • However, grammar is not seen in the dolphin's natural communication.

  • While these communication systems may have some of the qualities of language we've identified,

  • none display all four.

  • Even Washoe and Coco's impressive abilities are still outpaced

  • by the language skills of most three-year-old humans.

  • And animals' topics of conversation are usually limited.

  • Bees talk about food,

  • prairie dogs talk about predators,

  • and crabs talk about themselves.

  • Human language stands alone

  • due to the powerful combination of grammar and productivity on top of discreteness and displacement.

  • The human brain can take a finite number of elements and create an infinite number of messages.

  • We can craft and understand complex sentences

  • as well as words that have never been spoken before.

  • We can use language to communicate about an endless range of subjects,

  • talk about imaginary things and even lie.

  • Research continues to reveal more and more about animal communication.

  • It may turn out that human language and animal communication aren't entirely different but exist on a continuum.

  • After all, we are all animals.

All animals communicate.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US TED-Ed language communication displacement grammar communicate

【TED-Ed】Do animals have language? - Michele Bishop

  • 32694 3038
    SylviaQQ posted on 2016/07/31
Video vocabulary