The Potential of Animals and Language

In Chapter 4 of our text, there was a very interesting and famous example of an animal being able to convey thoughts and emotions through language. Koko, a 44 year old female gorilla living in the San Francisco Zoo, has learned over 1,000 signs of a modified version of ASL. And Koko isn’t the only animal that doesn’t rely on just call systems to communicate – several instances of animals learning to use human languages have happened over the years. Another prime example was Alex, the highly intelligent African Gray parrot. Alex was able to request things like food or going home, describe specific details of objects when he felt them with his beak, and count how many of a certain object there were on a tray placed in front of him (among other skills). Other younger members of Alex’s species have shown an even higher level of intelligence, and several other species have shown intelligence far beyond what one might expect of them. This high intelligence in some animals seems to come from extensive interactions with humans, who give them the most important and profound outlet for intelligence – language.

It is remarkable to think that as time passes we are finding more and more examples of highly intelligent animals. As humans continue to bring out the intelligence of some of their beastly companions, we may start to see evolutionary changes. Maybe one day, thousands of years from now, humans won’t be the only species on Earth capable of great cognitive ability. We may find ourselves surrounded by equally as intelligent beings in the distant future, and anthropology may not only apply to Homo sapiens.

One thought on “The Potential of Animals and Language”

  1. One way humans separate ourselves from animals is our capability of advanced communication with each other. Having a system of languages that can convey more than just basic information necessary for life is something unique. But, with certain animals such as koko also being able to show this higher level of intelligence and connection, it makes us as humans have to rethink how we treat them.


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