Prairie dogs’ language decoded by scientists
2013 06 24

CBC News

Human-animal translation devices may be available within 10 years, researcher says


Did that prairie dog just call you fat? Quite possibly. On The Current Friday, biologist Con Slobodchikoff described how he learned to understand what prairie dogs are saying to one another and discovered how eloquent they can be.

Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at North Arizona University, told Erica Johnson, guest host of The Current, that he started studying prairie dog language 30 years ago after scientists reported that other ground squirrels had different alarm calls to warn each other of flying predators such as hawks and eagles, versus predators on the ground, such as coyotes or badgers.

Prairie dogs, he said, were ideal animals to study because they are social animals that live in small co-operative groups within a larger colony, or "town" and they never leave their colony or territory, where they have built an elaborate underground complex of tunnels and burrows.

In order to figure out what the prairie dogs were saying, Slobodchikoff and his colleagues trapped them and painted them with fur dye to identify each one. Then they recorded the animals’ calls in the presence of different predators.

They found that the animals make distinctive calls that can distinguish between a wide variety of animals, including coyotes, domestic dogs and humans. The patterns are so distinct, Slobodchikoff said, that human visitors that he brings to a prairie dog colony can typically learn them within two hours.

But then Slobodchikoff noticed that the animals made slightly different calls when different individuals of the same species went by.

"With a sudden intuition, I thought, ’What if they’re describing the physical features of each predator?’" he recalled.

He and his team conducted experiments where they paraded dogs of different colours and sizes and various humans wearing different clothes past the colony. They recorded the prairie dogs’ calls, analyzed them with a computer, and were astonished by the results.

Clothing colour, size described

"They’re able to describe the colour of clothes the humans are wearing, they’re able to describe the size and shape of humans, even, amazingly, whether a human once appeared with a gun," Slobodchikoff said.

The animals can even describe abstract shapes such as circles and triangles.

Also remarkable was the amount of information crammed into a single chirp lasting a 10th of a second.

"In one 10th of a second, they say ’Tall thin human wearing blue shirt walking slowly across the colony.’"

Besides being a researcher, Slobodchikoff is an author of the book Chasing Doctor Doolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, in which he profiles many other animals with complex language, including crows and ravens, chickens and vervet monkeys. He believes complex speech is probably common within the animal kingdom.

"It’s just that we have not looked," he said. He blames the fact that humans have long assumed animals are incapable of such intelligence.

Computer translation

Slobodchikoff said he has been working with a computer scientist to develop a device that uses voice pattern recognition techniques and artificial intelligence to translate between human and animal speech.

"We could potentially have something maybe the size of a cellphone in five to 10 years where a dog would say, ’Woof’ and the device would say. ’I want to eat chicken tonight" or a cat could say, ’Meow,’ and the device would say, ’My litterbox is filthy, please clean it.’"

[...]

Read the full article at: cbc.ca







Wild Kingdom- Prairie Dog Language w/ Con Slobodchikoff (2013)





Related Articles
Dolphins Call Each Other By Name
Scientists say dolphins should be treated as ’non-human persons’
Do Animals Tell Stories?
Animals Are Moral Creatures, Scientist Argues
Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings
The Ethics of Boosting Animals from Sentience to Self-Aware Consciousness
Can Crows Read?
6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think
Crowboarding: Russian roof-surfin’ bird caught on tape


Latest News from our Front Page

EU on high alert as Germany accepts Ebola patients
2014 07 30
A German hospital has agreed to treat Ebola patients amid widespread fears of a possible outbreak of the deadly disease in Europe. Over 670 people have already been killed by the disease in West Africa with doctors struggling to control the epidemic. A German hospital in Hamburg agreed to accept patients following a request from the World Health Organization (WHO), Deutsche ...
Bolivia declares Israel terrorist regime
2014 07 30
Bolivia has declared Israel a “terrorist state” and revoked a visa exemption agreement with Tel Aviv in protest at the ongoing Israeli attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip. The move "means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state," President Evo Morales said during talks with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba ...
Pagan Traditions: Mysteries of medieval graffiti in England’s churches
2014 07 30
Medieval graffiti of straw kings, pentagrams, crosses, ships and "demon traps" have been offering a tantalising glimpse into England’s past. What do the pictures reveal about life in the Middle Ages? A project to record the graffiti, which began in Norfolk, has now been rolled out to other areas and is gradually spreading across England. Armed with just a torch and a ...
More Gigantic Holes Appear in Siberia’s ’End of the World’
2014 07 30
Is it the end of the world in Siberia’s ’End of the World’? Scientists suspect not, but they’re still investigating the strange and alarming holes that are swallowing up the Siberian north. This week two new holes have been discovered, and with similar characteristics as the first reported hole: a very deep shaft with smooth sides, debris surrounding the rim, and water ...
BLACKLISTED: The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist
2014 07 30
The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept. The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, ...
More News »