Silaeva O.L., Ilichev V.D., Dubrov A.P.
Speaking birds and speaking mammals.
Ő.: PASVA-inecoprom Publ, 2005, 240 p. (in Russian)

In spite of the fact that speaking birds such as parrots and some other species are well known to all, it is considered as common and confirmed by the highest scientific authorities, that only human has ability to speak. B.F.Porshnev, the founder of hominology (the science branch about primates nearest to human) adopted this ability as criterion to define hominoids either to humans or to animals. He thought that even Neanderthal men could not speak and because of that took them for animals. His conclusion were based on available data about behavior of captured hominoids, and also on observations of free creatures. In all cases that were known to Porshnev inability of captives to learn even simple words was noted.

Naturally, birds were not considered at all, because they are not mammals. Besides their speech successes were considered as plain reflex abilities and imitation without any comprehension what they speak.

However, recent investigations show that linguistic abilities of animals go beyond this mechanistic scheme. Hominoids especially, under favorable conditions, are expected to show first steps in real speech being somewhere between apes and human. The book by American authors Mary Green a.o. (Mary Green, Mary Alayne and Janice Carter Coy "50 Years with Bigfoot: Tennessee Chronicles of Co-Existence." 2002) presents a few episodes when such creatures use speech in contacts with farmers that gave them food. Their lexicon consists of a mix of American Indian and English words, and both parties came to understanding each other. Some cases in Caucasus, which were ignored earlier as improbable, elements of speech communications between hominoids and residents were also revealed. It is impotent to know such abilities for understanding these features of human origin. Researches of abilities of other animals may be also useful for their preservation in semi-wild life near populated areas.

The facts about speaking animals are interesting to any real fan of the nature.

The book is written by three scientists, Ph.D. in biology and professors, and this phenomenon enlightened as interesting popular reading and scientific high level lectures. Authors in details analyze reasons why an animal tries to use speech of its master. The first of them is comprehension of full dependence from the master, especially if he has no other pets, and the passionate desire to be useful to him. From these positions authors define types of animals that suitable to learn speaking, as well as those without hope to succeed. An animal devoted to its master but ready to stay alone does not fit for this task. It is interesting to note, that animals which are more glad to masterís emotional support, than to food encouragement, achieve the greatest successes.

The main motivation of petís masters, that are ready to pay significant attention and efforts, is desire to have close unique companion. There are examples of specific use of such animals (parrots, specially trained, serve as guides to blind people not worse than dogs since: they distinguish colors, understand situation around, and prompt blind person by voice to necessary actions.)

The first and greater part of the book describes speaking birds. But it is not in the line of our site, though some parts are extremely interesting. It may be a surprise for many to know how birds produce their sounds. They sound not with throat as mammals do, but with complex organ with vocal chords in bottom part of trachea near bronchial tubes. Abilities of birds to various songs and sounds that compose words depend on it. The second factor for these abilities is development of brain. The intelligent answers and reactions of speaking birds to various situations that occur around them show, that they are much clever, than presumably they may be and what may be expected with their brains so small. Authors pay attention to differences of brain structures of birds and mammals. Its effective function at small size is wonderful. These researches deny a paradigm "the larger brain, the more intelligent".

In smaller part there are many examples about cats and dogs, that is quite natural as they are the most numerous our pets.

Authors analyze two levels of speech ¾ passive and active. Almost all domestic animals reach passive level which is featured by understanding of words, that the master says. If necessary they execute voice commands. There is still a wide popular belief, that our pets react not to meaning of words, but to intonation (menacing, tender or the order) of the master speaking to an animal. Observations and tests showed that it is not true. For example, a word "sausage" said by the most strict tone, made a dog joyful, while a tender remark turned it to lower its tail. Every master of a pet animal can narrate many similar cases from his own experience.

The active level, when an animal becomes capable to reproduce by voice words and understand their meaning, is reached in significantly rare cases. The success depends on many factors: how it was grown up, desire and skill of a master to do such teaching and, certainly, on ability of an animal. Authors carefully considered all aspects of this process. They show numerous examples of animals that have reached significant progress in speaking. Among them were also elephants, seals, dolphins and some others. The effective techniques of speaking training used to animals, apparently, in some cases can be useful to teach human children foreign languages, and also for children with anomalies in development.

Strangely and unexpectedly enough, in speaking apes are behind animals listed above. So they have considerably higher intelligence, and they understand a lot of words and fulfil commands, and have impressive face mimic, and make various own sounds, they have more difficulties to pronounce necessary sounds of human words. Therefore, researchers of ape mentality commonly use hand language of deaf-mutes (armslan). Some animals have reached significant successes in it. Young gorilla  ÓÍÓ at its seven understood 2000 English words and knew about 750 hand-words, but spoke nothing. A chimpanzee, which succeeded well in armslan, was capable to say only three words (mum, dad, and cup). Presumably, such state of affair may be caused by the following reasons:

Unfortunately, the book has only a few pages describing speaking of apes.

It seems to me, that the book would become more attractive, if it includes a disk with sound and video records of speaking animals. The authors mentioned that these data are available.

This remarkable book will be interesting to all devotees of nature.

Authored and translated by
Michael Trachtengerts