Animals and symbols

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Chapter 12 endnote 17, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

[Apes] can even combine symbols to communicate complex requests for food, such as “cheese eat ​— ​wanting to” and “gum hurry ​— ​wanting to have some.”

Other animals can spontaneously use symbols to communicate requests for food or other objects. After being trained to use a rake, which brought them a reward of food, Japanese macaques spontaneously produce different coo-like calls to ask their human experimenters for food, or for the rake.[1]

Another example is Koshik, an Asian elephant in Korea’s Everland Zoo, who positions his trunk inside his mouth to imitate the human sounds of several words in Korean (hello, no, sit down, good). The story is that Koshik was socially isolated in the zoo for over twenty years. Elephants are a social species, and Koshik, motivated by the desire for social contact, learned to speak to connect with his human caretakers.

Also see information on chimps and symbol use.


Notes on the Notes

  1. Hihara, Sayaka, HirokoYamada, Atsushi Iriki, and Kazuo Okanoya. 2003. “Spontaneous vocal differentiation of coo-calls for tools and food in Japanese monkeys” Neuroscience Research 45 (4): 383-389.