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Why Animals Don’t Need Speech

Whenever I ask someone what exactly it is that makes humans the boss of everyone else, the most common responses I get are: we can build things (can you say beavers?) and we have language.

The language response is hilarious to me, being that I’m a linguist. We humans have such a difficult time communicating with one another–and we have the benefit of language. Meanwhile, animals don’t need speech, per se, because they can easily communicate without it. In other words, not only don’t they have a need for speech, but they do far better than we do with their speechless systems of communication!

Live Science has a brief, but interesting slideshow on The Top 10 Animal Senses Humans Don’t Have, which is educational, but inaccurate in at least one instance. Number 10 on the list is the ability of of bats to understand what’s around them by using echolocation. Anybody who watches the Ellen Degeneres Show knows that echolocation by humans is possible. (She had a young man on who is blind and can play basketball, rollerblade, play video games, and do just about anything else you and I can do, through echolocation.)

Other than echolocation, which is possible but certainly not the average strategy humans use for negotiating their way through their environments, figuring out who is prey by sensing their electrical field or body heat, and determining who might be a mate from seven miles away, and flying thousands of miles without a compass, aren’t things humans are capable of, despite our prized language skills.

So again, I ask you: What makes us the boss of them? The language issue is off the table, as is our skill at construction, and our use of tools (monkeys of all kinds use tools), so what’s left?

I’ll tell you what’s left: Because we can. Now, because we can hold court over the world’s creatures, wouldn’t you think that we might feel obligated to treat them with respect and allow them as much freedom as possible?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. tater #

    An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea. – Buddha

    No words to describe the disgust

    October 1, 2006

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