I spy… What do bats and monkeys have in common?

In BBC Focus, Feb 2017, p, 14,  and 16

Language. But as I will attempt to demonstrate here, it is only considered in relation to human language and derives its meaning and worthiness through the link to humans. So how is animal communication represented in the articles?


‘Just call it bat chat’.

This is the first clause in a BBC Focus article titled: ‘Bats’ chirping demystified’. The article posits that bats communicate about food, perching spots or mating. This, it could be argued, is reducing bats’ rich lives to very little. Further, their ‘bickering’ is evaluated as “‘gibberish’, a cacophony of aggressive bat noise”. Evaluating other languages is not restricted to animals’. Attitudes to other languages and the way they sound is informed not so much by an objective, empirical reasoning but grounded in ideologies. For example, when speakers say that French is the language of love or that Italian/Spanish sounds beautiful or German sounds aggressive, there is nothing inherent in the phonology of the language to render these meanings. Similarly, when animal language is reported as ‘aggressive’ it is through ideology that this view is formed.

Nonhuman animal language is not considered as language per se in the articles, and is referred to not in the domain of language but in the domain of a noise-like system. Only human language is spoken about in the domain of language and linguistics: “The grunts, barks and wahoos of baboons contain vowel-like sounds similar to human speech. In this example we can see that baboons are not considered to speak only grunt and bark, and bats only chirp, while speech is reserved for humans. Baboons do not produce vowel sounds, but rather vowel-like sounds.

“After analysing 1,335 spontaneous vocalisations produced by 15 male and female Guinea baboons… researchers found that baboons produce five sounds used in human speech“.  Here again baboon language is reduced to mere ‘vocalisations’ and ‘sounds’ and these are not a language in itself, but only a fragment of the rich human speech. (sarcastic tone)


Reinforces ‘us’ and ‘them’ stance

‘Baboons use vowel-like sounds, just like we do’.

While the articles equate baboon language sounds with humans, highlighting similarity to human speech rather than differences, the overall stance suggests animal sounds to be the origin of (human) language, accentuating the “evolutionary discrepancy” between humans and animals.

Promotes the human-supremacist worldview

Animal language, specifically that of baboons, is reported on using rudimentary lexis: “The grunts, barks and wahoos of baboons…”. This supremacy can be seen in human languages as well where certain languages were thought of as inferior to others. Many tribal languages have been described as ‘simplistic’, and certain language varieties have been looked down on as ‘wrong’ and less prestigious versions, for example, AAVE (African American Variety English) and MLE (Multicultural London English).

Researching animal language is of secondary interest when it is examined in relation to human activity. And the worthiness of their language abilities seems to increase with their zoological classification.

Arguably, this narrative of hierarchy and human hegemony contributes to the ever-growing divide between human animals and nonhuman animals and entrenches animal inequality further. Claims such as ‘Bats’ chirping demystified’ position humans as powerful and does not promote understanding of other sentient beings. Animals are still talked about in unequal terms: bats do not speak, but chirp, their language is not understood but demystified. On the animal ‘world’ there is no veil that needs uncovering, but humility and respect from humanity.

The author is willing to remove any content that may infringe on copyrights



6 thoughts on “I spy… What do bats and monkeys have in common?

  1. The human animal, so full of themselves and their pretentious language packed so full of dubiety and ambiguity as to boggle the mind and inflate the ego. Our speech, our writing complex and complicated. And with nearly a million words in the English language how can it be anything but unwieldy? Then to govern this horde, we lie down an insane system of rules and regulations, i.e., English grammar; and that, argued among the crazed nitpick experts as to which is what. This is not the makings of an intelligent species, whose language lends itself to woes far-reaching and manifold.

    I believe the animals have another one up on us, language.

    As usual, a stimulating article…without the dubiety or complexity and other negativity I mentioned above, I might add.

    As an aside. I captured two bats in our house this winter. At night, they would drive the cats batting as they flew about. Unfortunately, one misjudged feline reflexes. I put him in the work-shed, covered and heated to recover. But he eventually died. The other, captured and released on another night, flew away and is presumed to be living, or rather hibernating happily in the woods. And hopefully not back in the house.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is so enraging to read time and again about human supremacy: we are better, we are more intelligent; backed up by an impossible theory of evolution that only exacerbates this view. Humans have such a narrow grasp of what communication is, that they cannot fathom anything else other than, as you so clearly and rightfully said, though a cumbersome, complicated language system. Not to mention the disrespect of invading the bats’ homes to ‘study’ them and disrupt their lives. Science knows no bounds in its condescending and destructive ways.

      Bats are amazing, in Israel they live in the trees in the middle of the city and you can see them in the evenings, fluttering about. (and pooping).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you much for this insightful and intriguing piece. Language is a powerful tool that can remove barriers and allow communication to flow *to* all sentient beings *from* all sentient beings.
    But there is that dark side of language — using words as weapons. We’re rather clever at that too, and at our peril. Weaponized language kills. We can be oh so clever at finding splendid words to glorify a lifestyle and an economy built upon an insatiable appetite for blood-soaked comfort food because we possess “superior intelligence.” We craft nice words to beef up ad-copy to increase our most gross domestic product.
    Your post reminded me of gentle words in the timeless play *Harvey*:

    “Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” — she always called me Elwood — “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

    May there ever be a bat in my belfry.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Bill for your kind words. Words can be kind and some lovely humans such as yourself, can do a lot to make the world that much better. But we must stand strong and not let ‘common sense knowledge’ go unnoticed…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reading Daniel Dennett’s Kinds of Minds widened my understanding of other species’ subjective experience. It seems to me that the highly developed faculty that the human animal possesses of symbolic manipulation in its conceptual constructs is something of a double-edged sword. As Jung put it many years ago (I paraphrase): “We slip imperceptibly into a conceptual world”. What we fail to realise is that we’ve done just that, and from which point all our crazed beliefs, projections and manifold woes emanate. We’ve lost our animal immediacy — the pre-representational awareness that connects living beings most securely to the natural world. Thanks Mira! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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