Whale Grammar


As if the Speech Accent Archive from yesterday’s blogging wasn’t fascinating enough, it seems humans aren’t the only creatures being subjected to linguistic analysis these days. A new study appearing in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America suggests that whales may be speaking a more complex language than previously thought.

The study offers new evidence that whales, like humans, communicate in a hierarchical language—that is, one that uses building blocks such as words to form more complex constructs like clauses, the clauses then forming sentences, and so on. The study’s authors analyzed recordings of Hawaiian humpback whales using a special algorithm to isolate patterns in the sounds and found that whale songs do appear to follow a hierarchical structure. Decoding the hierarchy’s meaning, though, is something else entirely. Will we ever know what whales are talking about? My guess is they mainly talk about food and the attractiveness of whales of the opposite sex, just like humans do. —John Mahoney

Link via New Scientist (check out the sound clips, too).