Two cartoons from yesterday: in Doonesbury, the plants continue to talk; and in One Big Happy, Ruthie runs into the problems of correcting young language learners.
Archive for the ‘Animal communication’ Category
For (U.S.) Memorial Day — today — three diverse cartoons, none of them about war or memorializing troops: A PHD Comics on ambiguity; a Doonesbury on vegetable (parallel to animal) language; and a Mother Goose and Grimm uniting two Shermans (so there’s a bit about war in there — the (U.S.) Civil War).
An ambiguity in communicative intent. There’s the ominous question “Can we talk?” between intimates, conveying “Let’s talk!” — suggesting a subject that the recipient will find distressing. (“Can we talk?” is often an opener to a break-up speech or to personal criticism.) This has the can of permission.
Then there’s the can of ability: are we able to talk? This is a paradoxical question: the parrot produces something that sounds like an English question, about ability, but the ability in question is being able to produce utterances with intentions and to comprehend those intentions, and it’s unclear — indeed, very unlikely — that the parrot has this ability.
More adventures on the comics pages, this time in Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia, from the 2010 retrospective on 30 years of the strip, The Sylvia Chronicles: 30 Years of Graphic Misbehavior from Reagan to Obama (with pointed commentary by Hollander on the already pointed cartoons).
From Jules Feiffer’s foreward:
For thirty years, long before Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, my friend Nicole Hollander has been one of our nations’s leading satirists. Than mean that she is in the business of telling the truth and making it funny. She is right about almost anything. And because she is right, and she is funny, she has no power whatsoever.
In yesterday’s NYT Magazine, in the “one-page magazine” feature, this story about goat accents (“What a Well-Born Goat” by Hope Reeves):
It’s not just Eton alumni who distinguish themselves with their posh accents. According to a new University of London study, English pygmy goats (those farm-bred in Nottinghamshire, anyway) also display recognizable vocalization styles that morph as their social groups change. “It is not really a measure of animal intelligence,” says Alan McElligott, a co-author. “Nevertheless, the study does show a surprising additional cognitive capacity in a domestic animal that we are all very familiar with.”
In contrast to the great “cow dialect” story of August 2006, there’s real research here — McElligott leads a research group at Queen Mary University of London, “focussed on communication and cognition research, using goats, cattle and fallow deer” — but the little piece in the Times (with its fanciful dialect map of British goat bleats) frames the story in terms of large-scale dialect differences (by geographical region and social class) that will be familiar to its readers, though that’s not what McElligott’s research was about.
Yet another variant of the “We need to talk” theme, this time involving a parrot.
This story has come to me several times — first from Gregory Ward, with the Guardian‘s version, then from Chris Ambidge, with the BBC News version, then from friends on Facebook and on the Grapefeed site. Headers from the Guardian site:
‘Sexual depravity’ of penguins that Antarctic scientist dared not reveal
Landmark polar research about the Adélie penguin’s sex life by Captain Scott’s expedition, deemed too shocking for the public 100 years ago, is unearthed at the Natural History Museum
(story by science editor Robin McKie on the 9th). Not much linguistics here, beyond the inclination of people (including scientists) to anthropomorphize animal behavior.
From Barbara Ehrenreich’s “The Animal Cure”, from issue 19 of The Baffler, on spiritual encounters with animals, as reprinted in Harper’s magazine, June 2012:
[p. 14] We may not worship golden calves or offer human sacrifices to jaguar gods, but implicit in much of the new attention to animals is the commendably liberal idea that they are not – intellectually, or morally – all that different from humans. After all, they can use simple tools; they can be altruistic; they can create what they seem to regard as works of art; they can reason and remember; they can fall int what looks like depression. Language is widespread in the nonhuman world, and not only among birds, dolphins, and whales. Recent research has found that American prairie dogs, which are closely related to squirrels, can issue calls informing one another about what kinds of creatures might be approaching.
Lili Chin’s “Doggie Language”:
Or maybe I should say the “body communication” of dogs.
More Lili Chin dogs here; a fair tolerance for cuteness is required.
(Hat tip to Robin Queen, via Facebook.)