Chapter 19 – Bird(songs) and Language

Wikis > Chapter 19 - Bird(songs) and Language

2019: Lynne Lee, Amanda Lim Li Ann, Chen Yi, Trudy Loo Soo May

1. Introduction

Language is the tool of communication that sets humans apart from animals. But what if animals could learn languages too?

Natural language is a language that develops naturally between humans through interaction (Lyons, 2006). Whether animals have the capacity for language or something comparable to natural language is widely speculated, with people citing evidence from animal communication in primates (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1980), birds (Pepperberg, 2002) and dolphins (Herman, 1986). Language experiments conducted on primates have also been carried out over the years with varying degrees of success – Koko the Gorilla, Washoe and Kanzi, just to name a few. These animals have shown that they are able to learn and use aspects of human languages to a certain extent. More recent language experiments have been conducted on birds to find out whether they have language and whether some of them might even be able to learn and communicate to the extent that humans do. This wiki chapter will look at several studies of communication among songbirds and grey parrots, and discuss whether it is appropriate to claim if their communication systems are developed to a degree similar to that of human languages.