Language

And so we come to it at last. This is the big one.

Many animals communicate with each other, often by vocalisation. Some of vocalisations can be elaborate. The challenge songs of the humpback whale (whatever they are, these female repelling tunes are not love songs) are complex and last up to 20 minutes. Some animals have multiple distress and alarm calls, and Prairie Dogs have recently been claimed to have warning calls that embed noun, verb and adjective equivalents, but none has, as yet proved anything like human language in syntactical structure, let alone in complexity.

honeybee-dance

As far as sperm whales are concerned, they seem to be on the upper edge of these non-human languages. Sperm whales produce just four types of vocalisations; usual clicks, slow clicks, creeks, and coda. Female pods seem to only use coda in their social interactions. As good fortune would have it, coda are far easier to analyse than the calls of any other animal. They consist purely of clicks and their timing intervals, here is a quick overview.

For a typical vocal culture, 95% of their social vocalisations fall into two dozen types of coda. Sperm whale have many more types of longer coda, but each is too rare for any attempt at analysis. Some coda are only used when surfacing, some only when about to dive. Some types of coda might be over spoken by another member of the pod, other coda types never are. Because we can’t actually see what they do after they dive, and this is when they do their all coordinated hunting, it is hard to correlate these coda to action. Even so, from what we do know we can take away two very important points.

The first is that, from what little we can observe of them, they still show much structure to the usage of particular coda. The second point is that even though these might prove to be the most complex nonhuman language known, their complexity falls far short of human language. This would immediately disqualify them from being as intelligent as humans by simple measure. So, since this is what we are testing on this website… time to pack up and go home? Almost! but just to be sure that nothing had been missed, I pulled down the biggest analysis of a single pod that I could find. It was what I discovered there, my subsequent correspondence with its author, and then with the foremost expert in the field of coda analyse, that lead me to create this website. All the other evidence presented here in favour of sperm whales being our peers, though it may superficially look strong, is merely incidental to my case. The pages that (will) follow under the ‘language’ tag form its core, but first a word of warning/encouragement.

If you are heavily into mathematics with, at minimum, second year university training in statistics, you should love what follows below. If not, I think you should be able to catch the jist, even though the jargon I needed to explain the situation will make it impossible to understand perfectly.

WARNING: CONTAINS MATHS coda analysis part 1

WARNING: CONTAINS MATHS coda analysis part 2