Cetacean communication

From: Erich Hoyt (erich.hoyt@mac.com)
Date: Thu Dec 09 2004 - 16:25:16 EST

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    On 8 Dec 2004, at 20:55, Hannah wrote:

    > I am doing research on dolphin communication for a school project and
    > I need the expert opinion of someone who has had a lot of contact with
    > cetaceans and studied them. I was wondering if you would answer a
    > couple of questions for me.
    >
    >
    > There seems to be a reluctance from the scientific community to
    > consider the possibility that cetaceans use language. They say - yes,
    > they communicate; yes, they communicate socially; yes, they are highly
    > intelligent; yes, orcas have dialects; yes, they understand word
    > order; no, they don't have a language.
    >
    >
    > Do you feel that this stems from a lack of measurable evidence, or
    > from the conviction that only humans have languages?
    >
    >
    > Do you personally believe that cetaceans (or some of them) use some
    > kind of a language, still beyond our understanding, and perhaps,
    > beyond our present ability to prove it?
    >
    >
    Dear Hannah,

    Good question! I think that many researchers do have the firm
    conviction that only humans have language but this is precisely because
    of the lack of measurable evidence.

    I think that if cetaceans did have 'language' as we humans know it, we
    would probably have been able to grasp that already.

    My own feeling is that rather than having 'language', that cetaceans,
    at least some of the toothed whales and dolphins, may have other ways
    of communication - other 'universes' besides what humans call and
    think of as language.

    I don't think we are presently able to understand even a tiny fraction
    of what cetaceans use their sounds for. So, yes, it is beyond our
    present ability to understand or prove.

    But: Isn't it fantastic that these frontiers of possibility still exist
    on our planet?

    Erich Hoyt



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