MUSE LOG: Do Dolphins speak Chinese?    
 Do Dolphins speak Chinese?4 comments
picture28 Sep 2003 @ 18:11, by Quidnovi

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt thing is that the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.


According to researchers at Cambridge University, it doesn't matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.

And it definitely doesn't matter one way or another in Chinese. The Chinese languages are essentially made of ideograms!

Knowledge of 3,000 to 4,000 characters is needed to read newspapers in China, and a large dictionary contains more than 40,000 characters.

Three thousand to four thousand characters! Sounds rather daunting for a human, let alone a dolphin. But then again, more people speak Chinese than any other language in the world. Furthermore, we also know that languages made of a great number of signs combining in a small number of ways is better adapted to the mammalian cerebral structure than a language made of a small number of signs that combine in long and complex sequences. We find it easier, for example, to use ten digits to represent a number, rather than just the two digits (one and zero) of the binary system. Two hundred and thirty-seven is easier to grasp as 237 than as 10011111, its binary equivalent.

Looking at it in this way, Chinese ideograms do not seem so unapproachable when compared to the artificial conventions of consonant or phonemic alphabets, such as, for instance, the Roman alphabet of the English language. Interestingly, ideograms are small stylized drawings of the things they represent---quite a departure from the use of words whose assembly of letters is intended to represent sounds of the human speech and not the object they are associated with.

More interestingly, this becomes very relevant when it comes to Dolphins.

Cetaceans are deaf! Their hearing and sound production systems have undergone, over time, extensive modifications and their external ears have disappeared as a result. Dolphins process sounds through a frontal muscle, the "melon", which acts in some way like a kind of a holographic recording device:

"Series of very short duration, high-intensity, broad-band clicks containing frequencies as high as 120-kHz are projected in a narrow beam from the region of the dolphin’s melon and broadcast in front of the dolphin into the adjoining waters. When the clicks strike an object, echoes are returned and sensed by the dolphin through its special pathways for hearing. Recent research suggests that these echoes may preserve the spatial structure or shape of the reflecting object and be interpreted by higher center of the dolphin’s brain as an image of the object. This echolocation sense seems to be closely integrated with the dolphin’s visual sense, allowing it to easily relate things heard to things seen."
---The Dolphin Institute

"A picture is worth a thousand words", could well be a Dolphin proverb.

Technically, dolphins do not "hear" sounds, they "see" them! Their "language" is not auditive but visual. Any purely phonetic study of the way they communicate and interact with their environment is too limited and too limiting, as it is not their "words" that are eluding us but a "language" to which, quite literally, we are blind as we are obviously lacking the kind of physiological endowment that would enable us to convert sounds into images.

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