Many stories involve animals being able to communicate with each other using some spoken language. But, what would these languages actually be like?

Would each species have their own language? If yes, would there also be some inter-special languages, for communicating with other species? Or would cows just have to learn to understand Woof?

Would languages evolve by geography, such that French dogs speak a different language than American dogs would? Would this be in addition to or instead of each species having their own language?

If this is too broad, i can trim it to multiple questions.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This surely is too broad - all options are open. Basically, is there any reason to believe that animal languages/dialects would evolve differently then human ones? If so, why? And why would you care? Why are you asking the question? $\endgroup$
    – user3106
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 11:22

1 Answer 1


Consider that animals have sufficient language for the communication they wish to do. It's just not usually formulated verbally in the way that we communicate ( potential exceptions to this include birds and cetaceans ) so we tend to pay it less attention than it warrants.

These signals tend to have evolved and consequently run deeper than our culturally attuned communications so they don't vary across communities in the same way- I could have a conversation with a horse in Australia, the US or here in Europe and make myself understood equally easily by each of them, although of course the language gap is much smaller than the species gap there in any case. However as I mentioned above, they are very limited- restricted to simple suggestions "get out of my space", "move", "groom with me", "danger", "let's run" and so on. Among equines and many other social mammals this communication is predominantly through body language.

For another species to have a spoken language they would consequently need to be capable of a degree of abstract thinking, be equipped with vocal cords or something equivalent and have a need to communicate with their fellows, which implies that social animals would be much more likely to develop language than solitary ones. They would also need an ability to view events in a more future/past way rather than responding simply to the creature's immediate needs.

Interestingly where communication does take place vocally, dialects appear to arise in nature and as languages tend to be a long term consequence of diverging dialect, it is quite plausible that languages will naturally evolve in any vocal populations.

As for whether different animals could communicate between species through a common language, that is an interesting question- would the different lifestyles and experiences of different types of animal mean that any type of communication would be impossible? Wittgenstein suggested that if a lion could speak we would not understand what she had to say.

Effectively, when your animals speak like people, you are well up the road of anthropomorphism, a lot further than most people realise. There isn't a strong real-world grounding for anything along these lines, so I would just pick the system that works best for the story you want to tell.

  • $\begingroup$ I think that the likelihood of different species having shared language is unlikely. Even at the basic body-language level there don't appear to be universals. In humans, smiling is a sign of happiness and yawning of tiredness or boredom, whereas in most other primates they're signs of aggression. Similarly, the natural disciplining action in humans tends to be grasp-restraint, whereas in dogs it's a sharp nip-bite. A fair amount of the issues with human-dog relationships arise from the disparity in expected body language, and we've evolved beside each other for thousands of years. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 24, 2020 at 12:21

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