Real Life Doolittle
Not that these two are the only creatures to have absorbed the rudiments of human language - border collie Chaser and Dolphin Akeakamai both proved excellent pupils.
Real Life Doolittle
One of the most amazing creatures in captivity is Koko the gorilla. Able to understand around 2,000 words of spoken English, she is of course unable to vocally respond, so the truly incredible, 40-year-old ape - using a modified form of American Sign Language - is actually capable of signing her own ideas.
If indeed gorillas do have a kind of language, then this astonishing creature is actually trilingual, able to express a whole range of human-type emotions, including happiness, sadness and love, and has done so often in a 28 year long relationship with gorilla researcher Penny Patterson.
Another famously verbose creature was African Grey Parrot Alex - dying in 2007 with a vocabulary of 150 English words, the often demonstrated ability to count up to six objects, to distinguish numerous shapes and colours - and even to understand concepts like smaller or larger, under and over etc.
Not that these two are the only creatures to have absorbed the rudiments of human language - border collie Chaser and Dolphin Akeakamai both proved excellent pupils - yet other than the fictional doctor Dolittle, humans have rarely made genuine attempts at establishing communications with other earth species.
With humanity the supposedly most intelligent species, surely man should be capable of learning to understand the language of other species, which in fact many scientists are attempting to get a handle on. One has indeed already decoded much of the communication system of the prairie dog, though animals obviously do not employ languages as such.
Constantine Slobodchikoff - Northern Arizona University professor emeritus of biology - has spent many years on the prairie dog research, and in many articles over the past 30 years, has laid out extensive evidence of prairie dogs having a complex language, of which he understands quite a lot.
For example, when seeing a predator, high-pitched chirps are employed, which differ according to the message entailed. Slobodchikoff records the various calls and plays them in order to record responses, finding in the process that these creatures have distinct calls relating to different scenarios, and can communicate all sorts of information in this fashion.
Surprisingly, just as different human groups do, different prairie dog species have distinct dialects. The question of course has to simply be that if animals as uncomplicated as rodents have a complete form of language, higher-order animals must be equally blessed.
Elephants and Chimpanzees both have complex social groups which must, inevitably, involve complex languages, to ensure that social interaction goes smoothly. Dolphins too, act in large groups in ways that would be impossible without communication.
It has to be said that only time will tell if there is indeed a distinction between communication and language, but it seems clear that, if prairie dogs have a complicated language of sorts, then many other social animals probably also employ their own, though a real-life Dr Doolittle is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon.