May 11 – Say What?

Today’s factismal: The word krak means “there’s a leopard here” in the language of Campbell’s monkeys.

Just a few decades ago, people were convinced that man was the only animal that used language. And then came Karl von Frisch  and the language of the bees. And then came Jane Goodall and the language of the chimpanzees. And then came the language of the orcas, and the language of the crows, and the language of the ants, and pretty soon only the stubbornest biologists were claiming that animals didn’t have a language. But even better was discovering all of those languages was learning what they meant.

A Campbel''s monkey just waiting for the krak of doom (My camera)

A Campbel”s monkey just waiting for the krak of doom
(My camera)

For example, back in 2009, a group of researchers listened to groups of Campbell’s monkeys and slowly pieced together their language. The word krak for example meant “there is a leopard here” while the word boom means “let’s get out of this place” and hok means “Who let that eagle into the jungle?”. (Campbell’s monkey is a very compact language.) Even better, the researchers discovered that the monkeys could use their language much the way that we do by adding suffixes to change the meaning of a word. For example, adding -ful to sorrow makes the new word sorrowful in English. And adding -oo to krak makes the new word krak-oo which means “Something ain’t right here” and adding it to hok makes hok-oo which translates to “The canopy is dangerous right now”.

A warbler singing its heart out (My camera)

A warbler singing its heart out
(My camera)

Those researchers were able to do their work only because the Campbell’s monkey doesn’t move very far. But other researchers are trying to learn the languages of the birds and they do move pretty far. One group is trying to track the Mourning Warbler as it flies from South America to Canada using their songs and they need your help to do it. All you have to do is listen for the songs of the mourning warbler and record them on your smart phone. Email your song files and other information (date, location, number of jellybeans in your pockets)  to the researchers and krak! you’ve done your part tohelp us learn more about how other animals communicate. To learn more, wing on over to:
http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/jpitocch/ornithology/MOWAmapper/MOWASongmapper.html

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