Do Animals Have True Language? Excerpt:
From ultrasonic bat chirps to eerie whale songs, the animal kingdom is a noisy place. While some sounds might have meaning — typically something like “I’m a male, aren’t I great?” — no other creatures have a true language except for us. Or do they?
A new study on animal calls has found that the patterns of barks, whistles, and clicks from seven different species appear to be more complex than previously thought. The researchers used mathematical tests to see how well the sequences of sounds fit to models ranging in complexity.
In fact, five species including the killer whale and free-tailed bat had communication behaviors that were definitively more language-like than random.
Such studies are interesting because they may shed some light on how humans developed language, somewhere (probably) around the Homo ergaster/Homo erectus stage.
But there’s a big difference between a whale’s pattern of clicks and whistles and the works of Shakespeare – or Asimov. The bigger part of that difference, one that makes it a difference of kind rather than one of degree, is the capacity to grasp abstract concepts – symbology. Humans probably didn’t have that capacity until what anthropologist Jared Diamond calls the “Great Leap Forward,” about 30-35,000 years ago.
What’s that mean, pertaining to the study linked above? Simply this: while animal communications may well be more complex than we thought, they are still a quantum leap away from human-type language.