Talking animal

Talking animal

The talking animal or speaking animal term, in general, refers to any form of animal which can speak human languages. This can by itself be interpreted in several manners, as listed in the below sections.

Imitation of speech

The term may have a nearly literal meaning, by referring to animals which can imitate human speech, though not necessarily possessing an understanding of what they may be mimicking. The most common example of this would be parrots, many of which can learn to speak either through exposure or human training. The hill myna is another well-known mimic bird.

Research done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg strongly suggests that parrots are capable of speaking in context and with intentional meaning. Pepperberg's star pupil, Alex the African Grey Parrot, had demonstrated the ability to assemble words out of letters--in other words, to read and spell before he died in 2007.

While most mimicry is done by birds, there is one documented example of a harbor seal, Hoover, that would repeat common phrases he heard around his exhibit at the New England Aquarium, including his name.

A recent Internet phenomenon is the case of a cat who was videotaped speaking recognizable human words and phrases such as "Oh my dog," "Oh Don piano", and "All the live long day." Footage of this cat, nicknamed "Oh Long Johnson" from one of the phrases spoken, was featured on "America's Funniest Home Videos" in 1998, and a longer version of the clip (which revealed the animal was speaking to another cat) was later aired in the UK. Clips from this video are prevalent on YouTube. However, it is most likely that the cat is simply making sounds which a human imagination has turned into English words.

An animal language

To take this literally, this would refer to certain species or groups of animals which have a pronounced way of vocal communication, hence having the ability to conduct speech between its members with an understanding of what they are communicating. Although such a prospect may seem unlikely to many, certain more intelligent animals, such as dolphins and the great apes, have shown to make sounds at each other with a marked repetition in vocal patterns, which strongly suggests that they are indeed communicating with each other using their own language. This is widely discussed and investigated.

Some researchers use Sign Language to try to communicate with animals that have difficulty with speech, such as Koko the gorilla. As with vocal speech, however, some skeptics consider the results to be another form of mimickry and not true communication.

Fiction and folklore

Talking animals are a common theme in mythology and folk tales. Fictional talking animals often are anthropomorphic, possessing human-like qualities but appearing as another animal. The usage of talking animals enable storytellers to combine the basic characteristics of the animal with human behavior: for example in the "Three Little Pigs", the supposed animal rapacity of the wolf is shown through its repeated tricking of the three pigs. Other examples include "Little Red Riding Hood" and the "Bremen Town Musicians".

The storyteller may use talking animals for various reasons. It could be intended for a younger audience (such as Richard Scarry's illustrated books), or as a metaphor to show the personality of certain men or groups (Art Spiegelman's "Maus" depicts Jews as mice, the Germans as cats and the Poles as pigs, among others). There may also be other reasons, such as for the sake of satire in "Animal Farm", or artistic purposes.

Fictional talking animals may be roughly classified into the following categories, depending on the degree to which talk influences their behavior. Of course, many cases may be something in between; the classification below is only a frame of reference.

Talking animals which are still animals

The animal retains its original form without much change, other than being able to speak. An example is the donkey of Balaam in the "Book of Numbers". Sometimes it may only speak as a narration for the reader's convenience. The characters of the webcomic "Faux Pas" are another example of talking animals. The rabbits in "Watership Down" who behave exactly as normal rabbits, except for the ability to discuss their actions, also come under this category, as well as the penguins from the animated film "Happy Feet".

Animals interacting with humans

The talking animal concept is featured within much traditional literature, such as in Aesop's Fables, and several mythologies, including Greek, Chinese and Indian mythologies. A notable example from the Judaeo-Christian tradition is the speaking serpent from the Book of Genesis, which tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Many fairy tales include apparent talking animals that prove to be shapeshifted people, or even ghosts. The fairy tales "How Ian Direach got the Blue Falcon" and "Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf" have the hero aided by a fox and a wolf respectively, but in the similar tale "The Golden Bird", the talking fox is freed from a spell to become the heroine's brother, and in "The Bird 'Grip'", the fox leaves the hero after explaining that it was the dead man whose debts the hero had paid.

Whether shape-shifted or merely having the magical ability to speak, the talking animals is perhaps the most common trait of fairy tales. The motif is certainly present in many more tales than fairies. [Stith Thompson, "The Folktale", p 55, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angelos London, 1977]

Numerous modern science fiction and fantasy stories intermix human and animal characters. In L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz, animals (such as the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger) talk. The chicken Billina gains the ability to talk when she is swept by a storm to lands near Oz, as do other animals, and Toto, it is explained in a retcon, always had the ability since arriving in Oz, but never used it. In C. S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia", the world of Narnia is ruled by a talking lion by the name of Aslan, and many small characters are talking woodland animals, both of which interact with both the humans of Narnia, and the children who act as the protagonists of the books.

Animals that portray humans

Most people in the industries of professional illustration, cartooning, and animation refer to these types of animal characters as talking animals or funny animals. However, the mainstream news media and members of furry fandom sometimes refer to this variety of talking animals as furries. The earliest example of talking animals portraying humans, as opposed to talking animals portraying animals, was in Vishnu Sarma's "Panchatantra" ("Fables of Bidpai"), which was set in a world of talking animals who represent human morals and behavior. A good Western example of the genre is Henryson's "Fabillis". The webcomic uses anthropomorphism to portray an alternate world as modern as ours, but inhabited by animal-lookalikes. The intelligent robots they have made rebel and threaten the animals. This serves as a warning to mankind's thoughtless pursuit of technological advancement.

Simulated humans

There are numerous series of children's books, such as the "Berenstain Bears" series, where the characters are written and drawn as animals in order to attract a younger audience. In this scenario the stories may be told with the characters changed to normal humans, and quite possibly the plot will suffer no major alteration. Most of such characters act no different as compared to humans. A good example of this would be Mr. Toad in "The Wind in the Willows", who lives in Toad Hall, and drives a motor car. Other characters in "The Wind in the Willows" are closer to humanised animals, living in burrows, etc.

Exaggerated humans

In many fables, each particular animal typically represents a certain human trait, traditionally associated with it. For example, in Western folktales, a fox is supposed to be cunning, a hare is supposed to be a coward (whenever it is brave or smart, this is only with the goal to create a paradox with respect to the common expectation). In these tales, the names of the animals are simply their capitalized names of species: Mr. Fox, Mr. Hare, etc. Different cultures may associate different traits with the same animals.

Humanized animals

Such animals fall between the previous two categories, that of an animal which possesses both human and animal characteristics. An example is Peter Rabbit, who dresses in an appropriately sized waistcoat but engages in the very rabbit-like activity of stealing and eating carrots in the farmer's field, then being chased away by the farmer and painfully injuring himself whilst escaping from there.

Alleged talking animals

Gef the talking mongoose was an alleged talking animal who inhabited a small house on the Isle of Man, off the coast of mainland Great Britain. Opinion is divided on whether Gef was a poltergeist, a strange animal or cryptid, a hoax, or something else. Most doubt the case happened at all as told.

Paranormal researcher Charles Fort wrote in his book "Wild Talents" (1932) of several alleged cases of dogs that could speak English. Fort took the stories from contemporary newspaper counts, but they are unverifiable at this late date.

ee also

* Animal cognition
* Anthropomorphism
* Funny animal
* Talking birds
* Batyr (Elephant)
* South Korean elephant
* Kanzi
* Koko (gorilla)
* Vocal learning
* Zoosemiotics


External links

* [ New England Aquarium's Hoover page]

* [ Listen to Nature] "The Language of Birds" includes article and audio samples of 'talking' birds

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