A children's book for grown-ups by Jon Evans

July 24, 2007

9. Animal Language

A brief word is perhaps in order on the subject of animal languages.

I have already made it clear, I hope, that animals do not think in the way that you and I do. It should not surprise you to learn that they do not speak like humans either. In fact sound plays little part in the language of most animals. Many animals speak mostly with their bodies, by moving their heads and limbs, and with pheromones, chemicals released by special glands that long ago withered away in humans.

There is of course no one animal language. There are as many animal languages as there are animal species. It is true, however, that the more similar the animal, the more similar their language. Squirrels, chipmunks, rats and mice are all rodents, and can understand one another very well. Dogs are not rodents, but they are mammals; a dog and a squirrel could have a conversation, if it ever occurred to the dog to say anything other than "Kill you and eat you!" It is fair to say that, with a little effort, all mammals can speak Mammal to one another – except for humans, who have lost all their powers of animal speech, and the great apes, who understand sounds and motions but not pheromones, and so are half-deaf and half-dumb.

Birds are another matter entirely. Birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, more like reptiles than like mammals. Again, while all bird species speak their own language, it is fair to say all birds can speak Bird. But birds, like the great apes, do not use pheromones. Bird is a language entirely of sounds and motions. It is because of this that birds and mammals can only usually communicate a few basic notions. Patch's ability to speak Bird was quite rare. But since Bird is half body language, you can imagine how difficult it was for him to speak while his body was held by the hawk's strong and terribly sharp talons.

As for reptiles, I will have more to say of them in time.


Anonymous Rakie said...

hello there! i found your page via Dave Wellington's message board. I must say i wasn't expecting to get hooked so quickly on a story about a squirrel, but that's exactly what's happened. :D I love the chapters so far and am very much looking forward to reading more! Yay to you for posting this for free on the net, it's awesome and deserves to be read. I'll stick around for more chapters and will probably throw shoes at you if you post too many cliffhangers. :D

huggles, Rakie x

July 25, 2007 at 3:05 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Heh. Thanks very much. I may have some shoe-dodging in my future - but don't worry, not too much.

July 26, 2007 at 12:19 AM  

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Jon Evans is the award-winning author of the thrillers Invisible Armies, Dark Places (aka Trail of the Dead), and The Blood Price. See his web site rezendi.com.

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