Ever since the beginning of animal and human existence, there has been a continuous flow of information between individuals and groups. The term communication comes from Latin word commÅ«nicÄre– “to share” and defines the process of giving information or of making emotions or ideas known to someone (MacMillanDictionary n.d.).
Human communication has a very elaborated structure. A language is a complex communication system and it occurs when the speaker and the listener possess a representational process that is common and that ensures similar coding and decoding of signal meaning (Rendall et al. 2009) Even if animals might not have the ability to speak a language or utter various words, they have many other ways of expressing themselves.
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In animal communication, scent is probably the most common sense used by animals in order to mark their territory, to warn off or even scare intruders, to show their readiness to mate or even to attract the prey. In general, they use strong smelling urine for these purposes but some animals possess scent glands that produce persistent odours. Skunks are widely known for their anal scent glands that spray an oily liquid towards their enemy. The foul mist does not do any serious damage to the victim but it scares him off and it could linger on his body for a few days. Snakes and lizards use their tongues in order to collect the scent particles in the air then they analyze the information inside their mouths. Many insects, such as bees, ants and moths use pheromones to communicate, mostly for attracting males. Another source of scent utilized by some animals (for example: the rabbit, the hippopotamus, the vicuna) to make their presence be felt on different territories is excrements. They try to mark their territory by dropping large heaps of feces so others would keep distance.
The second sense that animals rely on to a great extent is hearing. In order to survive and succeed, animals guide themselves by the acoustic signals that they produce and receive. There is an ample variety of sounds that could be produced by animals, depending on size and species. Numerous acoustic signals that are transmitted by animals are not distinguished or noticed by humans because of the ultra-low sounds that can’t be perceived by human ear. The most vocal animals are birds that are well-known for their songs in different tonalities and cheerful chirping, especially in spring and summer. Whales, the largest of all mammals, are experts in the art of sound communication. They use various types of sounds, like whistles, clicks and pulsed calls for multiple purposes: echolocation, mate calling, and social interaction (Anon n.d.). Other animals that are often heard by humans are frogs and toads that have developed their vocal signals by using little bags of air as sound resonators which are situated on the sides of the head or in the throat. Elephants can produce a wide range of sounds, from rumbles to snorts and cries, going from very low frequencies to higher ones. When they are in danger or they are in a state of extreme excitement they use their trunks to deliver long resounding trumpeting. Their large ears allow them to have a great sensitivity to lower frequencies and also a better capacity in localizing sounds.
A third sense that helps animals communicate is sight. Visual signals at animals are diverse and they can come in many forms of display, such as mimicry, body posture, and facial expressions. For example, male peacocks and lyre birds display their exquisite colorful feathers and bodies in order to attract females for mating, visual communication being used in their advantage. Body language is frequently used by dogs, cats, monkeys and other animals. An example would be the moment when two dogs meet for the first time and they start setting their hierarchical position through body postures. If one holds its tail between the legs it means that the dog is found in a submissive position, allowing the other, with raised tail, to exercise power and dominance. Dogs also make use of their tails by wagging them in order to show happiness, excitement or pleasure. In opposition, cats waving tail is a signal of anger and irritation. The non-human primates, the monkeys, use a lot of facial expressions and body language to express their feelings. They flutter eyelids and raise eyebrows to denote pleasure, they hug to show friendship towards the other, and the males hit their chests in order to show superiority.
The art of mimicry is a fascinating modality of visual communication between animals. Mimicry occurs when an animal copies the actions, the appearance or the sounds of another animal or even the surrounding itself in order to avoid predators and enemies and to get them confused. For example, the peacock butterfly has large eye-spots on its wings to give the predator the false impression that it represents something bigger than it actually is so that would scare him off. Another example is the elephant hawk moth caterpillar who inflates its snake-like- head when being attacked to create the illusion of being a bigger and scarier animal. Other type of visual communication is warning coloration which can be found at caterpillars, various insects, frogs and snakes, the bright colors representing a warning for the potential predators. Their coloration pattern shows how dangerous or poisonous they can be and also if they have a dreadful taste. So, in general, animals learn how to avoid the danger in such cases.
Even though it might not be as important as other senses, touch is used by some animals in order to communicate their feelings towards others. As humans make certain gestures like shaking hands, kissing or hugging when meeting someone, monkeys also hug as a sign of affection. In addition to humans, they have a special and unique greeting which consists in placing the hand in the each other’s mouth as a sign of trust and friendliness between them.
Cats are creatures that are avid after tactile communication with others of their kind or even with humans. They usually rub their bodies against each other, especially around the face area but also along their bodies, intertwining their tails. Some domestic and savage cats use each other as “cushions”, this behavior being some form of social bonding and affection. They love grooming each other and curl up together. Owner of over 1000 tiny receptors, the crocodile is very sensitive to any kind of presence or movement. These receptors are present around their jaw line and they can easily detect vibrations in the water and the location of their prey even when a small insect stops by to take a drink.
Animal communication has always been fascinating to humans as we try to understand which are the similarities and differences between human language and animals’ ways of expressing themselves.
Karl von Frisch, a professor of zoology at the University of Munich, conducted some research on bee communication during around thirty years and he revealed some important principles that helped us understand more about animal communication(Benveniste 1953) First of all, we found out that there are some similarities between bee communication and human language. They are able to offer and to receive messages that contain real data, they can describe the location and the distance of a certain object and they can communicate all these by using various somatic movements. Therefore, it was demonstrated that bees own some kind of “memory” which enables them to store all the data and then transmit it to others.
On the other hand, the differences between human language and bee communication are significant. Bees can only transmit the message through body language without being able to create sounds through vocal organs. Their communication can occur only during daylight, an element that permits visual perception while human communication is not limited by this factor.
Another important difference between the two ‘languages’ is the fact that, unlike humans, bees can’t carry a dialogue therefore there is no exchange of linguistic information and no reply from the receiver of the message. Also, bees’ messages can’t be analyzed because they can only be seen as a general reference to a total content. But in human’s speech, each utterance can be reduced to parts that could easily be combined according to some certain rules so there is a great variety in human language. So, we got to the conclusion that bee’s communication is not a language but a signal code because there is an invariability of the message, a unilaterality of transmission, an impossibility of separating the elements of the message and also fixity of the topic.
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Studies made on non-human primates showed that while humans acquire extra information about a speaker’s intentions, wishes, and beliefs during a dialogue, apes and monkeys appear to have no such abilities because there is no theory of mind. Their way of communicating might appear a bit chaotic when it is compared to human language. For example, when they encounter dangerous situations, they create some alarm vocalizations which are not structured but short and noisy. These sounds are ideally produced to capture the listener’s attention as quick as possible in order to warn it about the potential dangers and to make it react really fast.
To conclude, the lack of a real language in animal communication does not mean that there is no similarity between human language and animal communication. Humans will always make research about animal communication in order to get a better understanding of the way the non-human beings express themselves.
Bibliography and References
Anon, Whales make noise to communicate, locate food, and find each other. , p.http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/whalesounds.htm. Available at: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/whalesounds.htm [Accessed January 15, 2014].
Benveniste, E., 1953. Animal Communication and Human Language: The Language of the Bees. Diogenes, 1(1), pp.1–7. Available at: http://dio.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/039219215300100101 [Accessed January 11, 2014].
MacMillanDictionary, No Title. Available at: http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/communication [Accessed January 14, 2014].
Rendall, D., Owren, M.J. & Ryan, M.J., 2009. What do animal signals mean? Animal Behaviour, 78(2), pp.233–240. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0003347209002589 [Accessed January 11, 2014].
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