From Kitabkhana, Hurree Babu’s old blog, October 2003.

Irene Pepperberg on “that damn bird” and the question of whether animals might be able to share a language with humans: “Researchers such as Pinker and I get along well because I never claim that Alex has full-blown language; I never would. I’m not going to be able to put Alex on a “T” stand and have you interview him the way you interview me. But Alex has basic building blocks that are language-like behaviors — and also elements of phenomena like consciousness and awareness. Is Alex conscious? Personally, I believe so. Can I prove it? No. Does he have perceptual awareness? That I can definitely prove.”

The Babu’s been wondering for a while whether we’ve ever conducted experiments that work the other way round: are there human scientists around who can speak fluent dolphin, complete with clicks, for instance, or who can separate the many different layers that go into the mew of a cat, depending on whether it’s talking to its kittens, a predator, a pigeon that might be potential prey, or a possible partner? Inputs welcome.