The 5th Annual EALTA Conference

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A Few Words about the Dolphins

The photograph on the home page of this site depicts a Minoan dolphin fresco from the Queen’s Apartment in the Palace of Knossos, Crete. The question of whether dolphins possess a natural language has long occupied thinkers and scientists. More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle theorized that dolphins could speak, albeit in a language without consonants.

"The dolphin, when taken out of the water, gives a squeak and moans in the air, but these noises do not resemble those above mentioned. For this creature has a voice (and can therefore utter vocal or vowel sounds), for it is furnished with a lung and a windpipe; but its tongue is not loose, nor has it lips, so as to give utterance to an articulate sound (or a sound of vowel and consonant in combination.)"  Aristotle, Historia Animalium, Book IV, M3v

Contemporary research on dolphins and language is of course much more rigorously scientific, and with science comes testing. Including language testing: in the Dolphin Institute’s summary of current research on dolphins and language learning reference is made to an intriguing experiment which tested a dolphin’s grammatical knowledge of the language she had been taught by the research team.