Learning animal language from prairie dogs

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Anyone who's yearned to understand animals might jump for joy as a result of work done at Northern Arizona University. Researchers believe they've decoded some prairie dog language — and it may lead to new ways of understanding animal talk. 


Dr. Dolittle dreamt how wonderful it would be to understand the language of animals. But our next guest believes he knows how wonderful it is. For a start, he's managed to decode prairie dogs speaking.

Con Slobodchikoff has spent 30 years studying their language. And he's discovered a sophisticated communication system… one he hopes may lead to better communication between humans and animals.

• Animal Behaviorist: We'll Soon Have Devices That Let Us Talk With Our Pets –The Atlantic

Con Slobodchikoff is a professor Emeritus at Northern Arizona University and author of the book Chasing Doctor Dolittle – Learning the Language of Animals. We reached him at his home near Sedona, Arizona.

Written By: Anna Maria Tremonti
continue to source article at cbc.ca

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  1. In reply to #1 by aroundtown:

    prairie dog conversation…

    “Tell the humans to stop poisoning our ground holes, and the shootings, ffs”.

    Sept. 7, 1804 – Lewis and Clark discovery team records their first encounter with the ‘petite chien’.

  2. In reply to #1 by aroundtown:

    Hey man, you got anymore of those sunflower seeds.

    That reminds me of a conversation I had with a fellow researcher at the Human Dolphin Foundation. We were speculating what dolphins use their large brains for. What do they think about? We wondered if they were superjocks obsessed with gymnastics.

  3. Human vanity gets in the way of even recognising animal communication. Sounds or signals we don’t understand are presumed to be gibberish or are lumped as a territorial or mating display.

    We have gradually discovered animals are smarter than we thought. Chimps using ASL. Alex the grey parrot who understood boolean expressions. Prairie dogs that can describe colours and shapes. Dolphins with a sense of humour. Humpback whales composing music. Crows can count. Crows can let other crows know about particularly dangerous people.

    One of the most pleasant events in my life was hanging out with a troop of gibbons. We “jammed” a pleasing song. The music was considerably more euphonious than what often passes as pop music.

  4. There is an amazing respect out there for animal communication, and many resources available on the topic. Various “TED talks” go into the corvid mind.
    One young man actually built a vending machine for ravens. This well documented experiment actually had ravens finding coins to buy food rewards. Ravens are, as I understand, lumped generally around the intelligence of chimpanzees. Ravens can both construct and use tools, sometimes in a puzzle sequence. Have been observed taunting “hunter” type mammals towards “prey” type animals. Of course for the advantage of causing a fatality, and thus carrion meat.

    I have little doubt that, should us dominant primates cause our own demise, to put it nicely….. The final 3-4 billion years of this little solar system will see Earth give rise to an avian ‘prime intellect’, if you will.

  5. To give you summary of what is on the audio. They discovered prairie dogs had alarm calls, one for aerial predators and one for ground predators. They they discovered there were variant calls for each species. They have a different call for dogs and coyotes, accurate even for animals that look similar. They have a call for humans. They encode the size of the human, and the colour of his clothes. They encode whether the human has ever before been seen to carry a gun.

  6. Meerkats also have a range of calls.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meerkat#Vocalization – Meerkat calls may carry specific meanings, with particular calls indicating the type of predator and the urgency of the situation. In addition to alarm calls, meerkats also make panic calls, recruitment calls, and moving calls. They chirrup, trill, growl, or bark, depending on the circumstances.[7]

    Meerkats make different alarm calls depending upon whether they see an aerial or a terrestrial predator. Moreover, acoustic characteristics of the call will change with the urgency of the potential predatory episode. Therefore six different predatory alarm calls with six different meanings have been identified: aerial predator with low, medium, and high urgency; and terrestrial predator with low, medium, and high urgency.

    Meerkats respond differently after hearing a terrestrial predator alarm call than after hearing an aerial predator alarm call. For example, upon hearing a high-urgency terrestrial predator alarm call, meerkats are most likely to seek shelter and scan the area. On the other hand, upon hearing a high-urgency aerial predator alarm call, meerkats are most likely to crouch down. On many occasions under these circumstances, they also look towards the sky.

    I am sure quite a number of animals have similar skills.

    As a youngster walking in woodland, I was always aware that once birds noticed me and gave an alarm call, the warning would spread, and I was then much less likely to see any wildlife. Moving quietly was essential to viewing.

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