Do Animals Have a Language?

Language is considered to be a very complex form of communication that occurs among the human race. It is a set of verbal and non-verbal conventions that humans use to express their ideas and wants. Humans use words while talking to express their needs and wants and they cry, slouch and make faces when they want to express feelings. Animals, or in other words non-humans also show signs of communication such as a dog wagging its tail when excited or a bird singing a song to attract the opposite sex. However do animals have their language? Scientists are still unsure about this question.

Researchers say that animals, non-humans, do not have a true language like humans. However they do communicate with each other through sounds and gestures. Animals have a number of in-born qualities they use to signal their feelings, but these are not like the formed words we see in the human language. Human children show these same forms of communication as babies when crying and gesturing. But they slowly learn the words of the language and use this as form of communication.

If human children were separated at birth away from humans they would not learn the words of the language and would not be able to communicate with other humans. They would resort to sounds and gestures as their primary form of communication. However, in the animal kingdom if they are reared alone from birth they are still able to behave and communicate in the same way as other species of their kind.

So what about animals such as dogs that understand commands or birds that can “talk”? Dogs can be trained to follow certain commands such as ‘sit’, ‘come’ and ‘roll over’, but does this mean they understand language and therefore can use it as well? Dogs are known to be experts at reading their owners intentions and that they do not respond to actual words but the tone in which it is said. So if you say “bad dog” in a cheerful tone, the dog will wag its tail. If you say “good dog” in a harsh tone, the dog will put his tail in between his legs. Birds that are in captivity are known to be able to “talk”- it is believed that it does not mean anything to them and they are merely copying sounds they hear.

There is no doubt that animals communicate with each other to one degree or another in response to different stimuli such as hunger or fear. Human language is creative and consists of unique characteristics that give us the ability to engage in abstract and analytical ways.  So can it be said animals do not have a true language like us humans, since we use language for a variety of things other than just communicating simple needs? It is a matter of opinion and extensive research in the area.

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7 Comments on "Do Animals Have a Language?"

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The idea that dogs do not understand words but only expressions and voice tone cannot be true. It has been shown (and I know from personal experience) that some dogs will retrieve different balls when asked – for instance- bring the white ball or bring the small ball. They may not know that it is white or small, but they know that that word is associated with the particular ball.

If u say animal,do not have a specifie language then what of parrot that communicate with human being with this thesame language?

Definetely, I agree with you in the sense that human language is not only generative,but also it’s grammatically structured and it’s for cultural transmission just few to mention something lacks in non-human language.However,the ability of some animals or birds to follow some commands or respond certain sounds to me is not a warrant to justify that do non human species use language for effective communication as humans, rather it’s a means of communication which for them serves as a semantic signal for various things.for example, a monkey can be trained to play music by responding to a drum beats etc.funnly,if… Read more »

Yes it is true that animal cannot understand the human language,but i think they understand emotions.Verbal communication is not always important to express our thoughts.
The same thing is with animal also.
for example if we try to train dogs we can make them learn many things.
and you must see a monkey dancing to his owners order.How is it possible when animal cannot understand humans language?

While animals may not possess the intricacies of human language, or the complex structure of meaningful, creative, problem-solving forms of speech, to say that animals do not have language is yet another arrogant human statement. Can a human truly comprehend the meaning of a dog’s bark? Can a human accurately interpret the rhythmic gyrations of a bee communicating to its hive about a flower? Can humans read the thoughts of a songbird by listening to its melody? The answer is “no.” While animal language may be less developed as human language, it is nonetheless language, and it is beautiful.

Humans evolved language as a form of survival. There was a time when we did not engage in nonessential speech, but that doesn’t make what we had anything less than a language. Some primates have even been shown an ability to communicate when danger is present, just as we probably did when we were less evolved. However, if the definition of language must include elements of “filler,” then I encourage you to look into the studies of prairie dogs performed by Dr. Con Slobodchikoff. He suggests that prairie dogs could even potentially have words for different colors, shapes, and sizes.

I believe animals have some limited form of language, just not as complex as ours, but not as simple as we think. For example, I can say “snacks?” To my cat and he meows in reply and get excited. He’d actually come running from where ever in the house if he heard that. But if I say any other word in the same tone, nothing happens.