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The Question: So, in my fantasy world, I have a race of human-like creatures that can talk to any land animal. The basic question is what kind of and how many voice boxes would this race need to be able to communicate with almost any animal?

Some background: In my fantasy world seven races were created. The first race created was of very human-like creatures who were given something I call the "Word Law." Basically, it's my version of magic, but the best way to understand it that it is like the run-time script of my fantasy universe--that is, simply by speaking something in the language that goes with it, "First Word," one can actually change the physical state of something.

Anyway, 100 years later half of this first race had fallen into darkness, so six new races were created as 'protectors.' The job of the protector races was to keep the Firstlings, as the first race is called, from spoiling their world. The 2nd race was to protect the mountains and their treasures, the 3rd was to protect plains and their bounty, the 4th was to protect the forests and their secrets, the 5th was to protect the caverns and the the Deep (a series of cassavas chasms running throughout this world), the 6th was to protect the air-breathing animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects), and the 7th the water-breathing ones (fish, etc.).

Now, one of the interesting features of race #6, the 'Beastguard' as I have called them, is that they were given an instinctive ability to communicate with animals. A note on the animals in this world is that while they do indeed communicate with pheromones and body language, they all have a primitive form of audible language themselves. Some animals are smarter than others (with a loose relation of a given animal's intelligence attached to its size and class [mammal, reptile, ...]) and have a more expressive language than others, but they all have one. Infact, some of these animals have had their intelligence enhanced and been given the ability to speak the common tongue (which is not Firstword) by users of the Wordlaw, but most have not.

THE BIG PROBLEM That said, I would like to have a biological grasp of what vocal hardware these Beastguard would need. I could just pull a hand-wave and say, "they can because they can," or, "I've a version of magic so this works," but I would rather have a biological explanation. For instance, we humans have single voice box with a limited frequency production and resonance range. While the animals in this world aren't exactly the same as the ones in ours, they are similar, and the animals in our world have vocal ranges that are all over the place. Birds even have more than one voice box. So, to be able to reproduce the sounds made by most all animals, what vocal equipment would my Beastguard need?

Feel free to get as technical as you want with the answer, I'll probably give a symplified version to my readers, but I want something believable. Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ Your title could use a bit of improvement - we already can speak to any creature. Or plant. Or stone. It's just getting them to understand and reply what's difficult ;) $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 12 '17 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Can the animals talk to other species? And do they use the 'language' to speak amongst themselves? Or this is a 'forgotten language' that is instinctively understood by all animals? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Apr 12 '17 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ The animals can be communicate amongst themselves and others of the same kind (think genus level in the animal classification system). They generally cannot understand the language systems of other kinds. $\endgroup$ – user29032 Apr 12 '17 at 18:45
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They just need a tympany, as with the Blabber in Vernor Vinge’s story (later recognised as the Tines hive-mind creatures).

Like the way we build loudspeakers, this membrane could play any sound no matter how complex, within its frequency band.

The sub-sentient Blabber, kept as a pet, was described with skills like a super mockingbird, playing back interesting noises it had learned.

Having what is essentially a loudspeaker cone as the vocal organ, it's just a matter of covering the needed frequency range. Could have separate “tweeters” for bats and such, and resonate with body cavities to produce a subwoofer effect.


This begs the question of how muscles could control it, which I’ve posted as a new question.

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  • $\begingroup$ I actually like this one alot. I'm a little concerned about the musculature needed to operate a loud speaker via direct action, but there may be ways around that (or just some very fast muscles). $\endgroup$ – user29032 Apr 12 '17 at 18:53
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The issue, as I understand it, is frequency range. It is hard for us to talk to bats because we cannot make sounds at such a high pitch. It is hard for us to talk to elephants, because we cannot make sounds at such a low pitch.

One could invoke mighty vocal cords which at maximum extend can go low enough and which can be tightened and shortened to go high enough. That is a little bit boring, with really no associated narrative possibility except "yep, beastguard dude talks to bats and whales, cause of his throat."

More interesting would be to give the beastguard a phonating apparatus similar to that of a human, and explore the huge range of sounds humans can make and which the Guard employs to widen their range.

Examples:

1: Whistling. There are a lot of ways for a human to whistle. I remember a guy in high school who could whistle through his teeth with such a high pitch our teacher could not hear it - it drove the rest of us crazy. For the Beastguard, some high pitches could be given over to whistling.

2: Clicking. Obviously one can make clicks and clucks with tongue against mouth. Some languages incorporate a variety of clicks. Very high frequencies sound to us like clicks (e.g. dolphins; bats) and I see it noted in the linked article that clicks made with the teeth are known to be high frequency sounds.

They are all sharp (high-pitched) squeaky sounds made by sucking on the front teeth

For some things requiring high frequencies the Beastguard could use clicks. I bet this would work underwater a lot better than talking does.

3: Tuvan throat singing. With practice one can engage air filled body spaces (throat, lungs etc) as resonators to generate harmonics around a phonated tone. The linked article discusses this phenomenon in singing; if it is used routinely in communication I have not heard of it. The larger resonant spaces allows lower frequencies. Animals which communicate at low frequencies would ignore (or possibly not hear) the main phonation and instead listen to the harmonics. I can imagine one particular very large Beastguard who is assigned the unenviable job of communicating with the Whale Elder, as he is the only one who can make sounds low enough for the Elder to hear.

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The vast majority of mammals and birds (maybe even all of them, I cannot off the top of my head think of a counter-example) can hear human voices just fine. Most reptiles and amphibians can hear us fine too, snakes being the exception. For snakes I don't know what would be the solution, since they are basically deaf to pitches above low-C; maybe those beastguards are all big males with really deep voices, like an opera baritone.

The beastmasters don't actually have to make the sounds produced by songbirds and elephants and ravens and horses and so on: songbirds and elephants and ravens and horses and so on can hear human voices, and they can learn to associate human words with meanings; think for example of how a horse or a dog or a parrot or even a cat can be trained to obey vocal commands. Since in the proposed world animals have language, there is really a small step to make them all understand Esperanto or Sumerian or Adamic or whatever common tongue inherited from the revered ancestors.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think it's a long way from animals hearing the Beastguard to animals understanding the Beastguard. The Beastguard wouldn't be able to talk to just any animal, only ones that had been trained to understand the language. Furthermore, the animals could never teach the language to other animals, since they would have no way of reproducing the correct sounds. $\endgroup$ – Nuclear Wang Apr 12 '17 at 15:31
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Animal languages teach us about human communication

Dr Dolittle spoke to the animals, I thought I remembered his using a trumpet-like device, but I think I am not correct. Regardless, I thought he could hear higher and lower pitches using that device and if he spoke through either end, modulate his voice to a higher or lower pitch. This did nothing for him knowing/speaking the language, but in hearing it and communicating back.

Oh and of course: Babelfish understand any language.

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