Thoughts about the Languages of Animals

multicoloured dog by farangis

»Read a comment on this essay by Waterfires (added on march 14th 2008)

I can't see how a term such as 'animal language' could pose a problem to anybody when it directly refers to an animal's way of communication. I am however critical of people who 'translate' animals in stereotype ways.

Nevertheless I could apologize for using a word that describes the phenomenon that humans see as exactly the very one criterion which most sharply shows the difference between humans and all other animals. The word 'language' has evolved in the human mind and possesses as such its linguistic legitimacy.

The word 'language' belongs to one of the core conceptions of the most drastic forms of negative speciesism. Regarding this presumed ground I have to stand upon, I apologize for the insufficience of my attempt to communicate something for which I can insofar only borrow this word, and I dare to ask you to perhaps think of a second word 'language' - free of value in a sense - which would only describe what we may not be able to describe yet within the borders of our set of regulations as we have them currently in regards to language; I am well aware that people usually don't want to accept that this one human term 'language' can be used tightly paralleled to animal language, and that so far the word 'animal language' has only be tolerated on a scientifical level to refer to human parameters that have been applied to animal communication.

Animals speak their languages, but what their languages consist of, could only be understood if we communicated with them on a level that allows them to use their language.

Animal languages work like human languages, where you can translate what you understand and try to put how-you-can-understand-the-message or that what you understand into your terms of your language.The same happens when I talk to any other individual: I comprehend what she/he/it conveys in the restrictedness or unrestrictedness of my own terms. My terms don't merely underly semantics - though they might be translated back and forth into semantics, morphems and syntax. My own terms and concepts have, in spite of their belonging to my system of language, a restricted meaning. In a very basic sense I have to rely on that what I understand or confer to that what I perceive.

The languages of animals (there are more animal languages than human languages of course) are seen by us as having a super restricted meaning. If we take the position of the nonhuman side in general, we can say though that human languages are restricted in that they only apply to humans. And seen from a standpoint which takes into account the question of perspective, I can say that if I don't understand a dog, it's because she belongs to a different animal 'group' when compared to my human group.

'Communication' infers meaning to the act of communicating on any level of any sound produced by a communicative agent.

Does language necessarily have to be connected to the history, the past, the present and the future of human progress? Why should animals have ever evolutionary or in any wise chosen to contextualize their existence with the human existence? A being of an animal group or I'd like to say an animal culture, clearly differenciates that what is important to their own existence; and I would call this rather their philosophy instead of just an evolutionary occurence.

I find it permissible to use a word of the human language to describe something I witness, on an experiential basis, about the side of someone (animals) who uses another language. Also ,I prefer to call the expresssed existence of nonhuman animals a philosphy, since it is too simple and anthropocentrically self-serving to underlie animal existence pure evolutionary ends. I do draw from my personal observations which seem sufficient for me to make my own judgements in this case and to make a decision about what to think here.

Basically I think that everybody knows that animals have their languages, but that we usually deny that these languages, that we don't understand, have any meaning at all. But how would we not deny any meaning of animal communication that would go beyond the notions that our societies generally have about even the being itself of animals; we deny the fact of a self-authorative being of animals in itself in it's whole meaning. So, no surprise that we draw major qualitative lines. In terms of language, we create a complicated building of restrictions to exclude the nonhuman animals from the comparatively tolerant perspectives that we have in regards to the pluralism of human languages. (It's ok for a human language to be completely different, just because it's human.)

We deny another animal that it's not instinctal, because it's not a human. You can indeed call everything an instict. Still you can't really prove that it is "instict". You can just put the 'supposed carrier of an instict' in a setting where they are treated as such instinctual things and seen as such, and interpreted as such.


Human rights in favour of animal rights may hopefully be another way to convey that an opinion of a human majority can't represent a truth about any individual animal and the whole animal groups:The animal individual itself is a truth-bearer since it exists, and simply by that it represents, through how it lives (in its own rights and in its own terms) a truth. Just like I judge humans I meet by the impact of truth (their actions are possible just by shere existence), I would want to be as just as I can towards the ways in which individual animals live.

Art doesn't function through semantics, since there are shapes and colours!
Micky Mouse doesn't function through semantics, since there are figures and action!
Snowball doesn't function through semantics, since there is Lisa taking her seriously enough!
Music doesn't function through semantics, since there is play and composition!
Oppression doesn't function through semantics, since there are suppressors
Love doesn't funtion through semantics, since there is understanding and misunderstanding
Peace doesn't funtion through semantics, since there are underlying actions ... And this array could go on and on. Anyway, and still this is all part of our language?

What we do when we speak about 'animals' and 'language' is: We reduce the complexity of animal communication to linguitstical terms into which they may not fit. Instead of admitting the existence and relevance of other communicative systems as being really independent from our systems and thus not explainable through purely and solely biologcal criteria (insinct).

I have compounded two things:

1. the function of the term 'instinct' as a) serving to restrict the notion of a socio-ethical plane as to only having developed in and being attributable to humans and 'human groups/cultures' and b) its intended reduction of the scope and meaning of communication in nonhuman animals to a biologically explainable and manipulatively determinable code,

and 2. I have defined linguistics as an inadequate means of setting general rules for a communicative validity.

Instincts and linguistics are things that are working in our systems of categorisation.

In regards to the self-cetegorization going along with this, I also want to point out that our own language does not base a) on merely a functional basis neither in connection to the agent that uses language nor in connection with the subjects that language seeks to deal with, and b) that our language might also not just be a compound of what linguistics (and maybe physiological aspects of speaking added or so) alone can make out of it.

Generally: Cultural (in a non-homocentric sense, i.e. implying "the natural" on an equal scale)) and individual aspects play a role too, as well with humans as with animals when communicating!

I do state again that the word culture can to my opinion also be applied to animals - if one allows a culture to be really and profoundly different [from "our" cultures] too.