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Ltryptophan's avatar

Is non-verbal conceptualization in animals an unspoken language?

Asked by Ltryptophan (12091points) March 11th, 2023 from iPhone

Animal behavior often involves identification/interaction with different objects, and other living things. Is this unspoken differentiation ability language?

Can an internal dialogue exist without a conventional language?

For instance, we see birds that choose some things to eat, and some to use as nesting materials. Despite the absence of words as we know them, can these actions be carried out without “precursor noun” information in their minds?

Likewise, if a bird is startled it takes flight, and thinks of the concept of the action of flight, a sort of “precursor verb”. I offer birds can differentiate between actions and nouns, naturally, and that this is a type of language.

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19 Answers

kritiper's avatar

I think that you’re thinking too much into it. ,Animals have reactive, subconscious minds that do not think, consciously, like we humans do.

janbb's avatar

@kritiper I don’t think that’s right. I once saw a birding demonstration that showed that crows hide food during one season and remember where to find it the next winter. They also are known to solve fairly high level tasks using tools.

I think animals do have thoughts and certainly emotions but I’m not sure whether to call that language or not. On the other hand, I have read that birds have and learn different songs to indicate different things so that seems quite definitely to be language. And even trees in a forest warn others of danger through their roots and through fungi!

The world is amazing!

seawulf575's avatar

Of course they have non-verbal communication. They don’t go into deep philosophical discussions maybe, but they do communicate. Honey bees are out collecting nectar, come back to the hive and do a little dance to describe to others where the nectar can be found. Herd animals have hierarchy that is sometimes displayed through posturing and fighting. Females can show willingness to mate with other motions. There are tons of examples of it.

How many of you have dogs? Ever have the dog let you know he needs to go out to relieve himself? It didn’t speak to you yet did communicate with you.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Yes, they communicate. But, I am saying they do more than create behavior to access a resource. I am asking if that behavior exposes a latent non-verbal voice that uses, and comprehends verbs and nouns.

seawulf575's avatar

Non-verbal cannot be a voice. It can be communication. And it does communicate desires, information important for the herd or the hive, etc. The bee dances are non-verbal communication. It tells other bees how far they have to fly (verb) to get the nectar (noun). And other bees understand the dance.

LostInParadise's avatar

Animals do not have any concept of grammar, so they do not have any idea of what nouns and verbs are. Even primates that learned sign language never had any idea of how to make a grammatically correct statement. The communication that goes on in nature is quite extraordinary, but it does have its limits.

Ltryptophan's avatar

Right, I am not suggesting they comprehend the parts of speech. But, they distinguish conprehensively between objects, and actions. They might not “speak” internally or externally “the leaf has fallen from the tree” but I am asking if their inner comprehension is creating an equivalently effective thought – an essential “know”.

LostInParadise's avatar

To make this a scientific a hypotheses, you need to devise a way of testing it. Otherwise it lies outside of science. Good luck.

Dig_Dug's avatar

I don’t believe animals think of words when an action is conceived. I don’t even think of a word when an action is involved in something I need to do right away. It’s an inherited instinct that is ingrained into them that has kept them alive for millions of years.

ragingloli's avatar

I would posit that it is the same as human children before they speak their first words. Humans do not even become self aware until 18 months old.

snowberry's avatar

These animals don’t speak, but they definitely use language using buttons. There are a ton of videos, and you could spend the rest of the day watching.

Try these.

Zaku's avatar

Well, current example: My cat discovered a lizard hiding under a planter box, and I took her away from it, for both their sakes. Now my cat is trying non-verbal but vocal entreaties, and using body language, clearly communicating to me that she wants me to take her back out there to get the lizard. Clearly the cat is demonstrating hidden lizard persistence, and attempting non-verbal and body language (and emotional communication) to communicate about it to me.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t underestimate animals, they are conscious feeling beings with the ability to understand their world and to communicate with others but I don’t believe they will ever understand words as we do.

longgone's avatar

Animals absolutely have nouns and verbs. The studies we’re doing are showing their internal dialogue quite powerfully. Take the Border Collie “Betsy” (can’t link, Covid brain hurts from screens, but googling the animal name will get you to the articles): she can differentiate between a couple hundred objects, and she can be told “nose frisbee” or “paw frisbee”. She will then walk over to the object and either nose or paw it.

The parrot “Alex” displayed concepts like “same” and “different” while also showing a sense of nouns: He’d be shown seven blocks. Sometimes, all one colour but different shapes. Sometimes different materials. He’d be asked “What’s different?” and answer “Colour” or “Shape” or “Material”. And no, there were no tricks involved. Irene Pepperberg is a highly renowned biologist and her research was rigorously reviewed.

Animals also demonstrate the ability to understand and use grammar. I’ll check when I feel better, but I think Kanzi, the gorilla, was extremely obvious in this. Which it is necessary to be, because people will try their hardest to think of animals as automatic, reflex-driven fluffy minds. I want to know what that says about us.

Monkeys in the wild have different calls for different predators. The formerly mentioned “Alex” (his brain is walnut-sized) didn’t know the word for “apple”, so he made one up (“banerry”). A number of animals name their young with specific calls that don’t correspond to other vocalizations. I don’t think they’re passing down family names. But we are more alike than we are different, staying alive us difficult without effective communication, and our brains are remarkably similar under a microscope. It’s a difference of scale, that’s all.

snowberry's avatar

Bunny the dog answers “Who this?”

kritiper's avatar

My old dog (a German Shepherd) would come to me when he wanted something. If I asked him if he wanted to go out, he would head for the door. But many times if I asked him if he wanted to eat, or if he wanted a drink, or for him to show me what he wanted, he would get this funny look on his face, him being unable to understand what I meant or to convey to me exactly what he wanted.

MrGrimm888's avatar

I would agree with most others. Sometimes I think we personify the animals observed behavior. But. There’s certainly more going on than we may ever truly understand.

LostInParadise's avatar

@longgone , Having nouns and verbs is not the same as being able to distinguish the one word type from the other. There is a level of abstraction that animals are not able to attain. In the following link, look under Koko.

…although the gorilla learned a large number of signs, she never understood grammar or symbolic speech, and did not display any cognition beyond that of a 2–3 year old human child.[19]

Bill1939's avatar

@Ltryptophan asked, “Is this unspoken differentiation ability language?” I think so. Language is not necessarily to communicate. Body language including gestures, posture, and movement is sufficient for essential communications. Add to these, wordless vocalizations such as grunts, barks, and musical sounds. Though a critter may not have conceptualized labels for recognized objects, it has behaviors acting as symbols others can recognize.

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