Imagine a world where animals could talk

Whale of a time: Killer whales usually communicate through whistles, calls, clicks and jaw claps.

What if we could communicate with animals? A killer whale has been taught to say words such as “hello”. Now many believe humans might one day be able to swap thoughts with other animals too

What’s happening

“Hello!” “One, two, three!” “Bye bye!” It may not be the most advanced vocabulary in the world, but a recording of these short words has delighted listeners. That is because they were not spoken by a person; they were spoken by a killer whale. Scientists say it is the first time this has happened.

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Technically, the killer whale is not speaking. She is mimicking human sounds, and there is “no evidence” that she knows what “hello” means, says scientist Josep Call. She also learned to blow raspberries and say the name Amy.

Killer whales now join a growing group of animals, including beluga whales, parrots, and elephants, which know how to copy the sound human words.

Although these animals do not know what they are saying, humans have been telling stories about talking to animals for thousands of years — from the deceptive serpent in the Garden of Eden to the depressed tiger treated by kindly Dr Dolittle.

Now the company Amazon predicts that devices allowing humans to talk to dogs will be invented within a decade.

Would this be a good idea?

Some say…

Talking to animals would cause chaos! Humans already fight and insult each other enough as it is, without adding the thoughts of millions more species into the mix. Even if a dog were to have the power of speech, what would it talk about other than “walks” and “food” and “ball”? Language is one thing, but intelligence something else.

Others think…

It would be a good thing for the planet. Humans have assumed that we are in charge for too long, but talking to animals would bring us much closer to nature. If we could directly translate the cries of caged birds and the laments of animals on the way to be killed for food, we would finally treat them with the empathy they deserve.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to be able to talk to animals?

Activities

  1. Time for a role-play! Split into pairs: one of you is a person, and the other is a dog. Now have a conversation. Think about the important questions which humans should ask, and how dogs might see the world differently — and vice versa.

Some People Say...

“If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.”

Ludwig Wittgenstein

What do you think?

Word Watch

Vocabulary
The group of words that someone knows and uses regularly. The average vocabulary an adult uses could be about 20,000 words. There are about 130,000 words in current English (OED).
Killer whale
Also called orcas. Killer whales are members of the dolphin family.
Mimicking
Copying or imitating.
Deceptive
Misleading. Giving the wrong impression.
Garden of Eden
The paradise which God creates for humans at the beginning of the Bible.
Dr Dolittle
A character in a comedy film from 1967 and remade in 1998. Based on the character in a series of books (1920-52) by Hugh Lofting.
Laments
Expressing sadness or grief.
Empathy
Understanding and sharing the feelings of somebody else.

Subjects

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