written to the song: Marvin’s Room — Drake
“We have language and they do not. Chimps communicate by embracing, patting, looking — all these things. And they have lots of sounds. But they cannot sit and discuss. They cannot teach about things that are not present, as far as we know.” — Jane Goodall
Growing up, I was obsessed with monkeys. My email address was anna_monkeys, my nickname used to be “monkey” or “banana” (which stuck), and I used to only wear clothing with monkeys on it. I perfected how to make a monkey face (for all my silly photos of course), and I even looked into purchasing a spider monkey. Jade Goodall was (and still is) one of my greatest role models.
Jane Goodall changed the game for animal research (no pun intended). She discovered that chimpanzees use tools like humans, have conflict amongst each other, and have non-verbal language capability. She is the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzee anthropology and the first woman in her field. My favourite part is it took her ten years to reach her dream of field research, and she pushed through despite all the criticism. She revealed information on chimpanzee’s ability to learn sign-language.
Language is a unique human capability, making us unique from animals and computers. When compared to animals, humans are more linguistically capable. We have a vast vocabulary, can conjugate, speak multiple languages, and we can reflect on our words and actions (we can think about thinking).
Major adaptations occurred as the result of evolution, especially the change to bipedalism. The ability for humans to walk on two feet allowed for an increase in blood flow to the brain — bringing oxygenated blood to be used for thinking, giving Homo sapiens the benefit of extraordinary cognitive abilities. Moreover, the way the human head is positioned on the spine gives humans a neck, a more specialized brain (for increased memory and decision making), and larynx (to be used to pronounce vowels). Recent scientific evidence has shown that animals possess similar functions of speech. Deer were discovered to have larynx very similar to the larynx of human beings. Similarly, the Japanese quail can categorize different sounds similar to the way humans categorize words into lexical and functional categories. In terms of comprehending language, some animals are highly advanced and have the ability to recall a few hundred words, whereas the average English speaker has 30, 000 words in their vocabulary. When trained or educated, certain animals can have up to a few hundred words in their vocabulary. Quantitatively, this shows that animals are not as developed as human beings.
In the documentary “Conversation with Koko”, Koko a gorilla is capable of using sign-language to communicate with her trainer. Koko knows over 1000 words in “gorilla sign language”. Through this documentary it is evident that Koko does have feelings, desires, and has the knowledge of sign-language to express herself. Koko asks her trainer Francine Patterson for a “baby” (a kitty cat) and the documentary shows Koko getting overly emotional and acting like a true mother. She also asks her trainer for a boyfriend and expresses that she wants to be in love. How human is that? Moreover, Koko is able to be creative and paint these beautiful painting which the documentary claims has intention to it.
Advance language is unique to humans, but animals do have a language of their own. They are able to use hand gestures and make sounds to express their desires. Their movements say it all, such as a dog wagging its tail. (side note: I read a cute quote saying that dogs are always happy because they know their lives are much shorter than ours). To me, animal language and gestures are equivalent to one’s ability to communicate in a country where you don’t know the language (you learn sign language to express your coffee craving). Language makes us different from animals. We are able to hope for the future, reflect on the past, and ponder life. We should never stop.