A talking animal or speaking animal is any non-human animal that can produce sounds or gestures resembling those of a human language. Several species or groups of animals have developed forms of communication which superficially resemble verbal language, however, these are not defined as language because they lack one or more of the defining characteristics, i.e. grammar, syntax, recursion and displacement. Researchers have been successful in teaching some animals to make gestures similar to sign language. However, these animals fail to reach one or more of the criteria accepted as defining language.

Possibility of animal languageEdit

Clever Hans performing

The term refers to animals which can imitate (though not necessarily understand) human speech. Parrots, for example, repeat things nonsensically through exposure.[citation needed] It is a form of anthropomorphism to call this human speech, as it has no semantic grounding.

Researchers have attempted to teach great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos) spoken language with poor results as they can only be taught how to say one or a few basic or limited words or phrases or less, and sign language with significantly better results as they can be very creative with various hand signals like those of deaf people. In this regard, there are now numerous studies and an extensive bibliography.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] However, even the best communicating great ape has shown an inability to grasp the idea of syntax and grammar, instead communicating at best at the same level as a pidgin language in humans. They are expressive and communicative, but lack the formality that remains unique to human speech.

Modern[timeframe?] research shows that the key difference is the animal's lack of asking questions and that formal syntax is merely a superficial detail, however Alex the parrot has been recorded as having asked an existential question.[11]

There are other differences as well, including poor precision, as shown by Kanzi the bonobo used the lexigram for chase interchangeably with that for get, though this behavior may not be the same for all animals.[12] Research supports the idea that the linguistic limitations in animals are due to limited general brainpower (as opposed to lack of a specific module),[citation needed] and that words are created by breaking down sentences into pieces, making grammar more basic than semantics.[13]

Reported cases by speciesEdit


  • Research done by Dr. Irene Pepperberg indicates that parrots are capable of speaking in context and with intentional meaning. One of Pepperberg's parrots, Alex, a grey parrot, demonstrated the ability to assemble words out of letters.[citation needed]


An owner hears a dog making a sound that resembles a phrase says the phrase back to the dog, who then repeats the sound and is rewarded with a treat. Eventually the dog learns a modified version of the original sound. Dogs have limited vocal imitation skills, so these sounds usually need to be shaped by selective attention and social reward.[14]

  • A dog on America's Funniest Home Videos named Fluffy, made noises that to some viewers resembled "I want my momma" after being asked "Do you want your momma?".[citation needed] Other videos showed other dogs making noises which to some viewers resembling "Run around", "I want it", "I love momma" and "Hello".
  • Odie, a pug who produced noises resembling "I love you" on demand, made appearances on several television shows.[15]
  • 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 accounts.
  • A husky which produces vocalisations that to some viewers sound like 'no' has appeared in the Daily Mail, the Mirror and the Huffington Post, amongst others.[16]
  • In 1715 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz published an account of his encounter with a talking dog that could pronounce about 30 words.[17]
  • Don, a German pointer born around the beginning of the 20th century, was a dog that was reputed to be able to pronounce a couple of words in German and became a vaudeville sensation as a result. Although most scientists at the time dismissed Don's capabilities, the author Jan Bondeson puts forward an argument that Don was genuinely capable of limited human speech and criticises the tests that were performed on Don at the time as having serious methodological flaws.[18]
  • In 1959 a German sheepdog by the name of Corinna living in Prague spontaneously developed a capability for limited human speech. According to the zoologist Hermann Hartwigg, published under the pseudonym 'Hermann Dembeck', Corinna 'holds the record in modern times for its talking prowess'.[19]


  • The case of a cat that was videotaped speaking purported human words and phrases such as "Oh my dog", "Oh Long John", "Oh Long Johnson", "Oh Don piano", "Why I eyes ya", and "All the live long day"[20] became an Internet phenomenon in 2006. 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 reacting to the presence of another cat) was aired in the UK. Clips from this video are prevalent on YouTube. The cat appeared as a character in "Faith Hilling", the 226th episode of South Park, which aired on March 28, 2012.
  • Miles v. City Council of Augusta, Georgia, in which the court found that the exhibition of a talking cat was considered an occupation for the purposes of municipal licensing law.

Great apesEdit

Great apes mimicking human speech is rare although some of them have attempted to do so by often watching and mimicking the gestures, and voices from their human trainers. Apparently, human voice control in non-human great apes could derive from an evolutionary ancestor with similar voice control capacities. These include chimpanzees and orangutans.

  • In 1962, Bioparco di Roma, a chimpanzee named Renata can clearly say the word "mama" when praised by her trainer.
  • Viki was a chimpanzee that can voice four words:
    • mama
    • papa
    • up
    • cup
  • Johnny (1944–2007), was a chimpanzee that can also clearly say the word "mama".
  • Tilda (born 1965, Borneo), was an orangutan who responds to her keepers in a human-like manner e.g. pointing to the food and repeating the word "Cologne Zoo" by controlling her lips and tongue, as well as manipulating her vocal chords. To do this, she clicks her tongue to produce various tones of her voice, and grumbles in a way that is comparable to humans making vowel sounds. She only does this during feeding time when she wants to attract her keepers' attention. This was mainly due to her former time being taught by a human trainer while she was in the entertainment business.
  • Rocky was an orangutan that can say the word "hi". He is the very first ape to produce sounds similar to words in a "conversational context". He can learn to control his voice the way humans do when they conduct a conversation.


  • Batyr (1969–1993), an elephant from Kazakhstan, was reported to have a vocabulary of more than 20 phrases. Recordings of Batyr saying "Batyr is good", "Batyr is hungry", and words such as "drink" and "give" were played on Kazakh state radio in 1980.[21]
  • Kosik (born 1990) is an elephant able to imitate Korean words.[22]


Some of the species of toothed whales like dolphins and porpoises such as beluga whales and killer whales can imitate the patterns of human speech.[23]

  • NOC, a captive beluga whale in the United States Navy's Cold Ops program, could mimic some words well enough to confuse Navy divers on at least one occasion.[24]
  • John C. Lilly's assistant Margaret Howe trained a dolphin named Peter to produce several words, including a credible "Mar-ga-ret".
  • Wikie is a killer whale that can say "hello", "goodbye", and "Amy" (her trainer).


In fictionEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ le muse, II, Novara, De Agostini, 1964, p. 337.
  2. ^ T. Nishida (1968). The social group of wild chimpanzees in the Mahali Mountains. Primates. pp. 167–224.
  3. ^ D. Premack (1985). 'Gavagai!' or the future of the animal language controversy. Cognition. pp. 207–296.
  4. ^ R.A. Gardner; B.T. Gardner (1969). Teaching Sign Language to a Chimpanzee. Science. pp. 664–672.
  5. ^ R.A. Gardner; B.T. Gardner; T.E. Van Cantfort (1989). Teaching Sign Language to Chimpanzees. Albany: SUNY Press.
  6. ^ le muse, II, Novara, De Agostini, 1964, p. 337.
  7. ^ E.S. Savage-Rumbaugh; D.M. Rumbaugh; K. McDonald (1985). Language learning in two species of apes. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. pp. 653–665.
  8. ^ E.S. Savage-Rumbaugh; K. McDonald; R.A. Sevcik; W.D. Hopkins; E. Rupert (1986). Spontaneous symbol acquisition and communicative use by pygmy chimpanzees (Pan paniscus). Journal of Experimental Psychology. General. pp. 211–235.
  9. ^ le muse, II, Novara, De Agostini, 1964, p. 337.
  10. ^ le muse, II, Novara, De Agostini, 1964, p. 337.
  11. ^ Jordania, Joseph (2006). Who Asked the First Question? The Origins of Human Choral Singing, Intelligence, Language and Speech. Tbilisi: Logos. ISBN 978-99940-31-81-8.
  12. ^ Kluger, Jeffrey (August 5, 2010). "Inside the Minds of Animals". Time.
  13. ^ Francisco Lacerda: A ecological theory of language acquisition
  14. ^ Adler, Tina (June 10, 2009). "Fact or Fiction: Dogs Can Talk". Scientific American. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  15. ^ "the talking pug". Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  16. ^ Thomas, Emma (January 15, 2014). "Defiant husky Blaze hates his kennel so much he learnt how to say no". Daily Mail. London.
  17. ^ Bondeson, Jan (15 March 2011). Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445609645 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ Bondeson, Jan (15 March 2011). Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN 9781445609645 – via Google Books.
  19. ^ "Willingly to school: How animals are taught". Taplinger Publishing Company. 2017-06-09.
  20. ^ Oh Long Johnson... - talking cat. June 11, 2006.
  21. ^ "Conversing cows and eloquent elephants". fortunecity.com. Archived from the original on July 24, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
  22. ^ "Kosik, Talking Elephant, Attracts Researchers And Tourists In South Korea". Huffington Post. October 11, 2010. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  23. ^ "The Story of One Whale Who Tried to Bridge the Linguistic Divide Between Animals and Humans". Smithsonian Magazine. June 2014.
  24. ^ "Study: Male beluga whale mimics human speech". 23 October 2012. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  25. ^ "Hoover, the Talking Seal". Neaq.org. New England Aquarium. Archived from the original on 2012-02-14. Retrieved 2012-01-25.
  26. ^ Josiffe, Christopher (January 2011). "Gef the Talking Mongoose". Fortean Times. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved December 23, 2012.
  27. ^ Chris Berry; So-yŏng Kim; Lynn Spigel (January 2010). Electronic Elsewheres: Media, Technology, and the Experience of Social Space. U of Minnesota Press. pp. 39–. ISBN 978-0-8166-4736-1. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  28. ^ Is This Goat Talking? | Yahoo News
    In August, Lyndsey Hyde of Tennessee posted a video to Vine featuring a goat that sounds like it is saying "What? What? What?" The 6-second clip went viral with more than 7 million views on the video-sharing app.

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