By animals with serious language skills, I mean some of nature’s best and most-gifted creatures who work with humans to close the communication gap. Below are three that go by land (Kanzi, the bonobo), air (Alex, the African grey parrot), and sea (the white whale, NOC) and who have attempted to meet us halfway in the world of language.
1) Kanzi: Bonobo
I’ve posted about Kanzi and bonobos here before, but they are too amazing to pass up a chance to do it again. Bonobos have many human-like traits—like the ability to walk upright and fashion tools— but I never tire of learning about their language skills. Kanzi has strong language skills, with an extensive vocabulary (communicated through a computer) and the ability to process novel sentences, or “phrases that preclude the learning of specific responses.” And none of this should be surprising when you consider that the genomes of bonobos and humans are about 99% the same. The two videos below take a look at Kanzi’s language skills—and if you need to see more, watch Kanzi make a camp fire, roast marshmallows, and put out the fire when done.
2) Alex: African Gray Parrot
Alex passed away in 2007. He could count, distinguish colors, tell you what objects are, or even what they are made of (by using his beak). Watch the video below to see some of Alex’s wonderful talents.
3) Lastly, NOC: White Whale
Like Alex, NOC passed away 5 years ago as well, but left a mark in the world of science by learning how to imitate human voices. In fact:
“Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds,” said Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. “Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact.”
As reported at Phys.org, “To make those human-like sounds, NOC had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole, the researchers found. In other words, it wasn’t easy.”
Read the full story at Phys.org and listen to a sample of the audio below.
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