"Give them the gift of words"


Music, Art, and Vocabulary – Are They Just For Humans?

Categories: News, Vocabulary Research |

In a previous post, we discussed whether or not animals can learn to communicate using the English language. Humans evolved to develop language as a form of communication, but there’s still an argument as to whether animals have a “language” or whether it’s just a combination of instinct, learned behavior, and pattern recognition. There’s no doubt that animals communicate, just a question of whether it’s a language, from our human perspective. As humans, we’re used to thinking about ourselves as operating on a higher order, able to use our brains for things that are more complicated, and to create and enjoy things like art and music. It’s what sets us apart from “mere animals” after all – or is it?

Many people may not know this, but there are animals and birds who live just as long as most human beings, or even longer. Since we generally equate age with wisdom, it’s logical to think that these creatures could accumulate just as much knowledge as we can, though perhaps from a different perspective. With sixty years to learn something, whether it’s how to paint or how to play a musical instrument, we assume that any person who spends that time on the task will succeed. So why wouldn’t an elephant?

There are many elephants who paint, and now there’s one who seems to enjoy music as well. Scientists and philosophers are continuing an ongoing debate as to how humans developed music; was it initially another form of communication, or something just for fun, or simply imitating the sounds they heard around them? Without a definitive way to communicate with the harmonica-playing elephant, there’s no way to find out if her music is deliberate or random, if it has a message or is just noise. But when we look at a painting or listen to music, that communicates something to us as the viewer or listener. If you saw a painting done by an elephant, but thought that a human had painted it, would you look at it in a different way? Perhaps we need to keep our ears open – and our minds as well – to consider that music, art, and communication isn’t just for humans. Perhaps one day we’ll learn the language of the elephants … if they don’t learn ours first.

Dancing isn’t just for people, either!