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Professional translators have a well-developed appreciation for the quirks of languages, from idioms to words that simply have no direct translation. But how many have stopped and considered how language works when it comes to the animal kingdom?
Here we look at five fascinating animal language facts guaranteed to give you a different perspective on language and its use.
Just as humans from different areas can speak the same language, with different regional accents, so too do creatures such as whales and dolphins. These unique dialects can be used to identify the origin of a whale or dolphin, as its sounds distinguish it from others of the same species but from different areas.
Talking before birth
Baby chickens are capable of cheeping even before they hatch from their shells. About 24 hours before they emerge, the chicks will cheep in response to the mother hen’s clucking, letting her know that her babies are very soon to see the light of day.
For human ears only
Other than the delightfully meek mewing noises made by tiny kittens, cats only make their signature ‘meow’ noise when communicating with humans. The sound is used to get attention from a person, but isn’t required when communicating with other cats. For that, purring and hissing will suffice.
Studies have shown that gorillas are able to learn sign language in order to communicate with humans. Koko the gorilla, born in 1971 at San Francisco Zoo, learned to sign over 1,000 words and was able to competently communicate with her trainers.
Elephants have voices that are different for each individual, in just the same way that humans do. Biologist Andrea Turkalo’s research has shown that elephants can be identified from the sound of the calls, just as people can, though it takes some considerable time for humans to be able to differentiate between the various elephants’ calls.
So next time you are marvelling at the complexity of language, or stuck with a particularly difficult phrase to translate, spare a thought for the richness of language across the animal kingdom and consider that in the grand scheme of things the translation you are working on might not be so hard after all!
Which other facts about animal languages do you know? Let us know via the comments box.