Animal way of thinking has always been a puzzle for humans. People were sure that there was certain mystery in the silence of animals that was necessary to unravel, and then they would get an access to the new knowledge about the world. At present, it is clear that humans can communicate with animals in a non-verbal way (acoustic, visual, tactile, chemical communication) while there are no possibilities of verbal communication. However, the situation can be changed if a system for human-animal interaction will be developed.
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It is not a secret that animals communicate with each other primarily in a non-verbal way. Indeed, the representatives of one species complex understand each other the best but the most of the animals demonstrate the same behavioral signs to such typical emotions as fear (an intent to run away or bend down to earth), excitement (harsh and abrupt movements), and anger (aggression, intent to attack). If we consider humans as the representatives of another species complex, a possibility of first non-verbal communication between animals and humans can be suggested. However, a comprehensive knowledge will not come by itself – people should use their skills in observation and analysis to acquire a substantial data about behavioral signs of various animals.
The auditory or acoustic communication is a vital type of a non-verbal communication. Speaking about people, it is necessary to mention paralanguage. The latter includes the voice quality, volume, pitch, speaking style which the subjects demonstrate during the communication process. In this case, one of the brightest examples of its use in non-verbal communication is a “conversation” between the dog and its owner. It is possible to suggest that the dog is guilty of chasing the neighbor’s cat, and this is why the dog’s owner scolds the pet. Obviously, the dog is not able to understand the meaning of the words, but it is capable of analyzing the owner’s voice tone, intonations, and posture. As a result, the dog receives the information and simple listening transfers to the communication process. People can communicate with their pets in many ways; one of the most important things that they can do to establish a contact with an animal is to give it an appropriate name. It is not a secret that animals can demonstrate different reactions to sounds. Choosing a name for your pet, it is extremely important to observe its behavior and define which sounds attract its attention most of all. Then, it is necessary to choose the name that contains these sounds. In this case, it will be easier to attract attention of a pet, and it will be more likely to react to your commands immediately.
To demonstrate acoustic communication, it is also possible to come up with such an example as laughter. For instance, when the dog’s owner is playing with it, the dog hears the laughter of the owner and then it gets excited and shares the person’s enthusiasm (in such situation, a lot of dogs have a so-called “dog’s smile”). The human laughter is also considered to reduce the animal’s aggression and fear. Concerning the moments of grief, when the person cries, some pets aim to “calm down” their owners, lying on their knees, purring, or playing. As for acoustic signs of the animals, one does not have to be a specialist in zoology to decode the wolves’ howling or the hiss of a snake as signs of aggression. Speaking about acoustic communication, it is necessary to highlight that mutual understanding between the representatives of non-related species and a successful exchange of information are almost impossible.
Numerous systems of signs were shaping during evolution of species in order to provide animals with an opportunity to send messages of vital importance to their conspecifics. These messages are usually pointed at sharing the information on threats and proximity of food resources. In other words, animals tend to share only the information that is able to contribute to survival and growth of their species. Despite numerous cases of symbiosis that occur in animal world, living in natural conditions involves constant battle for resources. Due to that, it is extremely important for different species to have their own systems of signs; the same signs would make it possible to intercept the information that is critical for other animals. Therefore, impossibility of clear communication between different species is caused by the laws of nature that never change. At the same time, human intelligence allows people to analyze and retrieve the meaning of the messages sent by animals. Due to that, the humanity has managed to understand the behavior of many animal species. Nevertheless, conveying the information to an animal still presents a sophisticated task.
Visual communication can be considered to be one of the most critical types of non-verbal communication. As for the animals, visual signals are mostly used by those species that are more active in the daytime. The reason is that there is no need to demonstrate visual signals during the night as they cannot be seen (Friedl). Some animals such as chameleons or some species of squid can change the color of their bodies to avoid danger and stealthily flee away. To continue, gorillas tend to put out their tongues as a sign of anger, dogs bend their bodies to the ground when they are eager to play, and white-tailed deer demonstrate alarm by tossing up their tails (“Animal Communication”). As for more common examples, cats can snarl to show their discontent, and some dogs start to shiver when they get afraid.
Indeed, humans also demonstrate visual signals that animals can read. For instance, hardly any animal could misunderstand such gesture as flourishing arms like a person aims to chase someone away (“Get away!”). Furthermore, people usually message physical signals without knowing that – this is the reason why pets can feel their owners’ grief, pain, or joy. For example, cat owners can confirm that these pets are indispensable when it comes to healing or reducing the pain. However, hundreds of human physical signals, particularly the ones connected with mimics, remain hidden for animals.
One of the most important visual signals produced by humans is connected to the movement of their eyes. People can communicate with animals when they are simply looking at them; nevertheless, the consequences of such communication flow are terrible when it comes to interaction between humans and wild animals. It is common knowledge that the majority of big wild animals cannot stand people looking in their eyes. In such situation, they tend to become extremely aggressive as they consider it to be a direct threat. The same principle often works even with smaller animals such as dogs and cats. The latter tend to regard the discussed signal as a threat if they have been the victims of animal abuse. Unlike other visual signals that have been discussed, a glare is often misinterpreted by animals, and it may lead to drastic consequences.
Regarding tactile signals, they refer to one of the most ambiguous types of communication. On the one hand, it is possible to consider both humans and animals as supremely tactile beings. They tend to use tactile signals to convey mainly positive information. For instance, they can be used to express affection, sympathy, or comfort. As an example, chimpanzees can show affection to each other by touching the hands, and elephants do the same by intertwining their trunks. The ways to demonstrate affection are different for various species. For instance, the giraffes put the necks together, and the horses rub their noses (“Animal Communication”). As for humans, they also prefer to touch those who appear to be the most agreeable to them, like relatives, friends, and beloved ones. More than that, both humans and animals can use tactile communication to establish their dominance, to state their place in the pack (or society) and the couple.
On the other hand, despite common vision of tactile communication, both humans and animals tend to avoid touching each other. Apparently, a mutual distrust can be considered to be the main reason for that. For centuries, people have been killing animals to get their fur, skin, bones, and use them to produce clothes, jewelry, and household goods. As for animals, being led by aggression, fear, or hunger, they attacked humans countless times. The enmity and fear became part of DNA of animals and humans. As a result, human-animal tactile communication in most of the cases is limited to physical contacts between domestic animals and their owners. In this case, the factor that defines the relationship is the intention to demonstrate dominance. For instance, it is evident in the case of tactile communication between a shepherd and the sheep. Furthermore, it is possible to remember one of the most well-known gestures when the human reaches out and intends to pat an animal to demonstrate both friendliness and superiority. In other words, it is possible to conclude that tactile communication between humans and animals is mainly about dependency and control.
At last, it is necessary to mention one more type of non-verbal communication between animals and humans. Chemical communication might be seen as an efficient way of communicating if a subject needs to send a signal but does not expect to get an answer. Animals use this type of communication extensively to mark territories, transfer the information to other species, attract a partner, and keep away the predators. A skunk can be considered to be an appropriate representative of the animals that widely use chemical signals; if there is a possibility of a threat, it sprays the stream of its natural scent to frighten off the hostile being.
Furthermore, it is also possible to mention cats that tend to rub against the object or use some scent markers to mark the place as theirs (Owens). As for humans, they do not possess the ability either to use scent markers to define the territory as theirs or to deter a foe from harming them with a spray of natural scents. Consequently, the chemical human-animal communication can be defined as the one-way communicational channel. It would be shortsighted to think that in this case there is no place for communication at all, as the animals still have the extraordinarily sensible instruments at their disposal. For instance, a shark is capable of feeling the blood in the water up to three miles away. As for dogs, they can follow one human trail that was made across an overcrowded place more than twenty-four hours ago (Matthews).
After researching non-verbal communication between humans and animals, it is necessary to discover the so-called “verbal” communication with animals, for the lack of a better term. As it has been mentioned above, animals do not have a language that would allow humans and animals to talk to each other. Apparently, most of the animals are not even able to produce the sounds necessary to build a phrase but some parrot species can be considered as an exception. Nevertheless, long time ago people started to undertake the first attempts to set up a communication channel with animals. Such interjections as “meow-meow,” “bow-wow,” and “tweet-tweet” were meant to imitate the sounds that animals produced and, to some extent, to create a mutual language of humans and animals. However, it is hardly possible to define this type of communication as the efficient one – it is much more likely to remain as one of the numerous forms of one-way communication.
Despite interjections, the commands given to animals appear to bring much better results. Undoubtedly, this type of communication cannot be considered already as a narrow channel – it is evident that animals reply to the commands and obey to the people. It even seems that they understand the human speech. Unfortunately, it is not likely to be true. According to the scientific point of view, animals behave in the way the human needs in response to a “particular sound-stimulus.” In other words, when the human gives a command to the dog, (such as “Up,” “Down,” or “Roll over”) the dog does not understand the meaning of these words, but it picks up the data of the owner’s tone of voice and intonations (Yule 15).
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However, humans do not give up looking for a way to understand animals. In 2002, Japanese toy company Takara Tomy developed a translator to the dog language, Bow-Lingual. This device was said to analyze the dog barks and categorize them in various emotional segments like happiness, hunger, fear, curiosity, anger, and sadness. After this, the device provides a short sentence which aims to transfer the dog’s emotion – for example, “I’m hungry,” “I’m afraid,” “Who is this person?” The device was considered to be a breakthrough and its developers got a Nobel Prize. Apparently, Bow-Lingual was a trigger – in the following years, scores of similar applications appeared. As the most noticeable of them, it is possible to mention No More Woof, designed in 2014 by the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery (NSID). According to the NSID, the device aims to record the electroencephalogram (EEG) readings from a dog, which will be analyzed by the computer and translated into short phrases. Also, a great number of copies and falsifications has been presented in these years. Consequently, it is possible to suggest that the idea of understanding how animals think remains incredibly popular (Woestendiek).
As it is easy to notice, such kind of devices do not translate the dog’s thoughts because animals, as it was mentioned above, do not use language in its plain meaning. The applications are more likely to analyze the functioning of bioelectric current in the dog’s brain and give an answer relying on human knowledge about the human brain. However, as the method of EEG does not seem to be authoritative enough when it comes to humans, its relevance to dogs appears to be even less informative. The truth is that people still possess too little knowledge about cerebration, either the one of the human being or of the animal. Consequently, it might be concluded that devices like Bow-Lingual and No More Woof aim at entertaining much more than at conducting a scientific research.
Nevertheless, it does not mean that humans should leave behind the idea of developing the mutual human-animal language system. On the contrary, it is necessary to progress this goal by all available means, as this scientific discovery could change the contemporary view of the world. For instance, it can turn out that the human being cannot be considered as the most highly-developed creature on Earth. The new answers to the eternal questions of life and death, sense of life can be revealed. However, it is important to understand that mankind needs to travel a long way to reach this aim, and the first step on this way should become the increased number of linguists, exploring animal communication in practice. Traditionally, this field of science is seen as an area of biologists’ expertise, but only direct involvement of linguists in the exploration process can bring practical results. More than that, it is necessary for scientists to change a line of a research and focus more on exploration rather than on the application of the results. As it was mentioned above, humans still lack crucial information on animals in general and their communication system particularly. Only in case of total concentration on gathering information and its processing, the construction of interactive human-animal language system will be possible.
There is another important question that is necessary to be discussed in connection to the importance of such system. It is the ability of this system to improve the work of veterinary physicians. To be more precise, it often happens that animals suffer from certain diseases that do not involve obvious symptoms. Due to that, veterinary physicians often start working with sick animals when it is too late. Considering that, a special system allowing us to read signals sent by animals would be very important as its use could prevent many diseases in animals and help them to live happier and longer lives.
Finally, it might be concluded that humans communicate with animals mainly in the framework of non-verbal communication – acoustic and visual types of communication appear to be the most fruitful for both sides. Animals do not have a language system similar to one of the humans, and they are also incapable of producing the sounds necessary to build a phrase. Consequently, the verbal communication seems to be impossible at this evolutionary grade. However, humans should aim to create an interactive human-animal language system as it would increase the human knowledge about the world. It is highly important to involve more linguists in the animal observations and concentrate on gathering information for the researches to reach this aim.
“Animal Communication.” Fact Monster, Web.
Friedl, Sarah. “How Animals Communicate: Chemical, Visual & Electrical Signals.” Study.com, Web.
Matthews, Susan E. “5 Animals with an Extraordinary Sense of Smell.” Popular Science, 2013, Web.
Owens, Crystal. “Forms of Animal Communication.” Pets on Mom.me, Web.
Woestendiek, John. “Do we Really Want to Read Our Dogs’ Minds?” Ohmidog!, 2016, Web.
Yule, George. The Study of Language. 4th ed., Cambridge UP, 2014.