- Many scientists are trying to learn the communication systems of various animals.
- One obstacle is the notion that animals don't actually have languages.
Koko the gorilla can comprehend roughly 2,000 words of spoken English. She doesn't have a vocal tract suitable for responding verbally, so the 40-year-old ape signs her thoughts using a modified form of American Sign Language. Counting her native gorilla tongue, she is, therefore, trilingual.
And she doesn't just talk about food. Over the 28 years that gorilla researcher Penny Patterson has worked with Koko, the ape has expressed a whole range of emotions associated with humans, Patterson says, including happiness, sadness, love, grief and embarrassment.
Alex the African grey parrot could utter some 150 English words by the time of his death in 2007. The wordy bird demonstrated that he could count up to six objects, distinguish between numerous colors and shapes, combine words to create new meanings and understand abstract relational concepts such as "bigger," "smaller," "over" and "under." On the night of his death, at age 31, Alex's last words to his handler, animal psychologist Irene Pepperberg, reportedly were: "You be good. See you tomorrow. I love you."