Friday, February 19, 2010

If we could talk to the animals...

Elephants can do maths*. They grieve as humans do when a member of their family dies. They can identify individual elephants far away by the sound of their call (hey bloooooke, it's me Fred. Wassup.).
Pretty cool.
But even more impressive, researchers suspect they can differentiate between human languages. These magnificent creatures don't have the best eye sight in the world, but their hearing is excellent.
Elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park commonly come across three different different human tongues as they traverse the park's reaches and it seems they're pretty cluey about their homosapien neighbours.
There are the Masaai, a semi-nomadic people who speak Maa. The Kamba people, who have their own language. And there are your cut-and-paste English speaking tourists who have morphed their way into the African landscape.
According to scientiest Graeme Shannon, "detecting whether they can tell languages apart depends on whether the elephants exhibit defensive or perhaps aggressive behaviour."
"Amboseli's elephants and Maasai community are wary of each other. Sometimes elephants will kill Maasai cattle and, very occasionally, people. When this happens, young Maasai warriors will go out and spear an elephant to death in retaliation.
"Least threatening to the animals are the English-speaking tourists who just want to watch and take photos."
Why am I writing about this?
Because I'm thinking about my characters and the way they communicate using senses other than oral.
Sometimes I think linguistics serves to complicate the way we communicate rather than elicit understanding. Sometimes the more we talk to each other the more confused we get. And don't even bring sms and email into the equation.
I'm a firm believer in the old adage that actions speak louder than words.
Sometimes too you just need to go back to basics. I'd go so far as to say that even in 2010, there's a time and place for the grunt and call of the caveman...

*Africa Geographic says a Japanese study provides evidence that elephants have considerable numerical skills. They've proven adept at recognising the difference between two quantities of objects as they were placed into buckets. In these tests, elephants outperformed a range of primates, including human children.

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