Language and Linguistics

Human and animal communication similarities/differences

Animal and human communication

The forms of communication of animals are immensely varied. All animal communication systems that have been studied share some features with human language, although it can be said, almost certainly, that there is none that shares them all.  Human and animal communication similarities

In the brief tour that we will do in this section through some of these systems, we will focus on the following aspects:

  • – The structure of the signs.
  • – The functions they perform.
  • – The biological substrate on which they settle.
  • – The patterns of acquisition of the signs.
  • – The degree of innatism that can be attributed to each system.
  • – Other relevant features for comparison with human language.

Exchanges made through electricity

Although it seems strange, many animals communicate by electricity. They use it, in addition to as a personal attribute or identity sign, as an effective defensive mechanism, quite useful, by the way, to keep threatening elements at bay.

This is the case, for example, some aquatic beings, such as lampreys or eels, who seem to think that a good electric shock in time is a blunt and unequivocal method of solving possible discrepancies with the opponents, a way of making clear who they are He is trying one whose intentions seem doubtful, a strategy to put “water through” if the situation becomes critical, while the victim recovers from the attack, and even a way to avoid future inconvenience hoping that the unfortunate have learned the lesson and Think twice before intervening.

Humans use electrical signals as a means of communication, although we do not usually use them on the skin of others, except in some types of therapy. Above all, we use them to transport, decoded, our messages, through the great diversity of artifacts we have manufactured. In this respect, we have at hand in our modern world a huge amount of devices that, using this principle, testify.

From the internal point of view, physiologically, our nervous system uses electrical signals to transport information between the different sensory receptors and the brain. This is a good example of information processing, a fundamental concept in communication theory. Human and animal communication similarities

A message that reaches any of the sensory receptors and that stimulates them, is translated into another code, is decoded, and then transmitted by electrical impulses to the brain. Thanks to a series of chemical exchanges in which neurotransmitters and electrical players play an important role, if this is the case, the impulses finally reach the cerebral cortex, where there is a recoding, finally producing a recognition of what has impressed us sensually, provoking or producing, in general, a certain response, capable of being integrated into a specific concept.

The dance of the bees.

Bees are social insects that have an elaborate communication system used to transmit information about the location of the food. Upon returning from a source of pollen or nectar, the bee performs various types of dance in the presence of the other bees, in which a figure is described several times while shaking the tail during its journey. The drawing of the figure differs depending on the distance at which the food is found: if the distance is less than 50 meters, the bee describes circles alternating the clockwise and inverse, and if the food is at greater distances, the Dance follows two semicircular paths and a straight line segment. Dance includes several components in which each one transmits different information. First,

Second, the time taken to travel the straight segment is proportionate to the distance at which the food is found. And finally, the frequency of the collection informs the amount of food found.

The message transmitted by the bee in this dance consists of discrete units, each of which also has its own meaning. There are also other contrasts with human language, first of all because the signs used have nothing arbitrary, since they are iconic and deictic. Iconicity can be seen in the natural relationship between the duration of the route and the distance, on the one hand, and between the frequency of collection and the amount of food, and on the other, while the deictic character is manifested in the orientation of the movement with respect to to the sun. Therefore, there are no traces of other important features of human language in bee dancing, such as freedom of use or the open and infinite character that can be produced and interpreted. Human and animal communication similarities

With regard to  biological bases and development, there is no evidence that the communication system used by bees is learned, although it is true, differences have been found between the dances of species that live in other regions, which It has reached that there may be dialect variants in the communication of insects.

In conclusion, the dance of bees is a fairly rigid and closed communication system. Skeptics argue that the behavior of the receiving bees is guided more by chemical signals (smell of flowers that permeates the emitting bee) than by the dance itself. In any case, given that these are two complementary types of information (spatial and odoriferous), it is reasonable to assume that both can contribute to guiding the behavior of bees in their search for food. It is possible that the dance serves to organize the ‘flight plan’ of the swarm from the hive and the smell guides the bees accurately to the final goal.

Vocal communication in birds Human and animal communication similarities

Vocal communication in birds takes place through two types of behaviors:

·   The calls.

·   The singing.

These two types of vocal behavior are distinguished:

·   In its structure.

·  In the functions he performs.

·  The patterns of ontogenetic development (stages of an organism until reaching maturity, without losing its organization and based on interaction with the environment or internal dynamics).

CALLS Human and animal communication similarities

The calls  consist of a note or sequence of notes associated with certain functional activities, such as navigation, or with environmental events, such as the presence of predators. Human and animal communication similarities

In the first case, the calls have the function of regulating the activity of the group to coordinate the flight or go towards a goal.

As regards the defense function against predators, there are different types of calls depending on the strategy:

·  Bullying harassment call , with which the group members simultaneously produce high amplitude signals while attacking the predator to scare it away.


  • The denomination of the units that form the song shows an evident parallelism between the structure of the song of the birds and the human language.
  • They are extremely complex structures of units with a hierarchical structure similar to that of the phrases and sentences of human language.
  •  It is known that the vocal apparatus of songbirds has an organ  called “siringe”,  similar to the human larynx, which is responsible for the production of sounds. The sounds  of the  song of the birds are produced in a similar way to the human (passage of the air), produced in the syringe, they are like their vocal cords. Human and animal communication similarities

he young of songbirds like human babies go  through several stages in the maturation of their vocal abilities; Thus, similar to the babble of babies in the early stages of speech development, birds initially produce incomplete sequences of singing, called “subcanto” , which are gradually approaching the vocalizations of adults of their species. For this, two indispensable conditions must be met:

–  That the apprentice is exposed to the songs of other adult members of his species, who play the role of “tutors” ( sensory phase ).

–  That he receives feedback from his own song during early learning phases ( “sensorimotor” phase , in which the repertoire of songs crystallizes through repetition and rehearsal.

This period can cover from 10 days to 4 months.

Like the language, the type of singing and the style can vary individually, depending on the environment and the tutors that you receive in the sensory phase.


  •  A fundamental difference with respect to the larynx is that the syrinx has a symmetrical structure and a connection with brain structures specialized in hearing and the production of vocal sounds. While some of these nerve structures are bird-specific, others have homologous structures in the human brain (such as Broca and Wernicke areas) involved in language processing.
  • It was considered that the song was also related to the left hemisphere, since the lesions in that hemisphere affected the song more. However, it was discovered that this was not the case in all bird species. Human and animal communication similarities
  • In sum, the anatomy and physiology of the vocal organ of singing in birds present important differences with respect to the speech organ in humans.
  • The most important difference is that the song of birds is not a symbolic system of communication, since it lacks the fundamental property of symbols, that of referring to something other than themselves.The vocal messages that the birds transmit in their song have no referential meaning, and therefore lack traits such as semanticity. The discrete components of the song (motifs and phrases) do not express different meanings that can be combined to form messages with complex meanings.
  • To this essential difference are added other no less important, such as the absence of a variety of communicative functions in the vocal behavior of birds.Applying anthropomorphic criteria, we could say that singing and calls play an imperative function, insofar as it essentially serves to influence the behavior of congeners.

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