Talking the Talk

Posted by Marcia Penner Freedman

A friend sent me a video of a woman gathering her cows using the ancient Scandinavian herding vocalization, Kulning. Perhaps you’ve seen the video. (see the video at the end.) It’s quite touching to watch. You see the cows in the field, in the distance. The woman begins her call and, as the cows pick up on the haunting, high-pitched music, they begin to walk serenely towards the caller.

There are a number of YouTube videos of cows responding to the kulning song. The video I received, however, included a series of captions that described the history and culture surrounding kulning. And this post is my response to the final caption, which reads:

A stunning example of humans interacting with nature?

Humans don’t interact with nature. Humans are a part of nature. Humans are nature, in the same way that the birds, the animals, all living things are nature. The human in the video is interacting with cows – not with nature – in a rudimentary form of interspecies communication. The human calls in a way that speaks to the cows. The cows come, communicating calm and willingness.

Without realizing, we take this kind of interspecies communication for granted. Our pets, for example, engage us in conversation all the time. We train our dogs to follow verbal commands. We let them know when we are pleased or displeased with them. And they tell us when they want to eat or are happy or when they are sad. Even our cats have the ability to talk to us through their many different verbalizations. And, when they care to, cats will even respond to our words.

Parrots, because of their ability to mimic and laugh and act goofy, have become, for some, a source of entertainment, and might be considered not too smart. But these are intelligent birds that produce a variety of non-human sounds that communicate feelings such as happiness and contentment or anger. This, combined with their ability to produce human language, opens up all kinds of possibilities for human-parrot communication. I’ve never had a parrot for a pet, so I can only imagine the enjoyable conversations that must go on in a household where there is a parrot.

Parrots are also one of the six groups of language learning animals. That means that, through experience, they must develop their ability to interact socially through their verbal language. The only other animals that are language learners are whales, dolphins, songbirds, bats, hummingbirds, humans and other primates. All other animals are born with the ability to produce the vocalizations of their species.

Vocalizing animals are endowed with a range of calls that serve in different circumstances. A call of alarm. A mating call. Calls to make contact. Calls to protect turf. These are but a few. In social animals, vocalizations additionally are an important element for expressing emotions and strengthening social interactions among group members.

Researchers have even found evidence that some animals learn to recognize differences in threats, and make calls appropriate to that threat. An example mentioned in the article, Vocal Matching in Animals is the vervet monkey, who will make one call when a snake approaches and a different call if it’s a hawk.

In a case of interspecies communication, researchers have found a lemur in Madagascar who can recognize the distress calls of other animals. Here’s how it was described:

It works like this: During the day, when the nocturnal lemurs are dozing in tree holes, part of their brain remains alert to the sounds neighboring birds are making. When the birds are warning each other that snakes or other potential killers are near, lemurs wake up and start scanning their surroundings for trouble. When the birds signal the all-clear, they go back to their snoozing.

With regard to interspecies communication between humans and non-human animals, there are several examples of situations where researchers have taught, or have attempted to teach, non-human animals to communicate in human language. There’s a TED Talk that describes seven cases. But the thinking about interspecies language learning is shifting among scientists to consider that real communication with non-human animals would involve humans learning to understand non-human language. If we can do it in dogs and cats. Why not other animals?

 Here is the kulning video:

Kulning Cow Singing

This woman summons cows with her voice! 😲🐮 Sound ON!! 🔊

Posted by Culture Trip on Sunday, September 2, 2018