Animal Communication vs Human Language
As language is a system of communication, it is useful to compare it with other systems of communication.
Humans communicate not just through language but through such means as gesture, art, dress, and music.
Although some argue that higher primates such as chimpanzees possess the equivalent of human language, most animals have their own systems of communication: dogs exhibit submission by lowering their heads and tails; bees, in contrast, dance.
Can we “talk with” animal??
“Talk with” means that we have a sender and a receiver and we exchange messages through the medium of sound, more specifically LANGUAGE.
COMMUNICATION is not synonymous with LANGUAGE.
No known animal uses language in the wild, but animals communicate with each other in systems called SIGNAL CODES.
Language as part of a semiotic system
The study of communication systems has its origins in semiotics, a field of inquiry that originated in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure in a series of lectures published in A Course in General Linguistics (1916).
Meaning in semiotic systems is expressed by signs: Signified & signifier
The linguistic sign is the association of the signifier to the signified. The signifiers are sounds, signs and symbols that are used to identify the signified – an object, a concept, or a referent.
A classic example of this is that of the word ‘tree’ which signifies the object tree in the real world.
Arbitrariness vs. Iconicity
One of the hallmarks of the linguistics sign is its arbitrary nature (Saussure) –> there is no natural connection between the word or sound and the thing it denotes; there is no one-to-one relation between signified and signifier.
Although most linguistic signs are arbitrary, there are instances where signs bear an iconic relationship to the meanings that they express.
Example: vowel lengthening in “The movie was so loooong,” reinforces the excessive length of the movie
Phonesthemes: sounds associated with particular meanings. Eample: the [sh] at the end of a word is suggestive of rapid motion: crash, bash, slash, smash, gash.
Other examples in your language?
Thus, while it is clear that signs can be iconic, for the most part they are, following Saussure, conventional & arbitrary in nature: evidence from variation of onomatopoeias (echoic words) in different languages