animal language

Human and animal communication differ in significant ways. Humans possess the ability to be creative with symbols, and current research suggests animals do not, according to Western Washington University professor of linguistics Edward Vajda. Attempts by scientists to teach animals to communicate using human symbols have shown little progress. Although a parrot can say human words, the animal doesn’t know the meaning of the words it mimics. Despite this major difference, humans and animals share some basic forms of communication.

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Comparison of Human Language and Animal Communication

Similarity: Both are composed of SIGNS (forms with meaning)

Six Key Differences:

1. Animal: The signs of animal systems are inborn.

Human: The capacity to be creative with signs is inborn,

but the signs (words) themselves are acquired culturally.


2. Animal: Communication is set responses to stimuli (indexes).

Human: Not limited to use as an index.


3. Animal: Each sign has one and only one function; each meaning can be expressed only in one way

Human: Signs often have multiple functions; one meaning can be expresses in many ways


4. Animal: Not naturally used in novel way

Human: Creative, can be adapted to new situations


5. Animal: Closed inventory of signs; only a set number of different messages can be sent

Human: Open ended. Grammar (rules of syntax) allows a virtually unlimited number of messages to be constructed


6. Animal: Change extremely slowly, with the speed of genetic evolution.

Human: Change rapidly as a cultural phenomenon.

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