Researchers are claiming that an elephant has learned to use its trunk to mimic human words. According to those researchers, the elephant can mimic the words “hello,” “no,” “sit down,” “lie down” and “good.” People who had never met the elephant were played recordings of the sounds the elephant made and could pick out those words as meaningful.
The methodology as described doesn’t sound scientific to me. Recording noises made over a larger period of time and cherry picking the ones that sound like words runs the risk of projecting human meaning onto something more ambiguous. That method could quite literally put words in an animal’s mouth.
What is impressive, in my opinion, is that the elephant seems to be trying to copy human speech in the first place. It is a fundamental mistake to use our own intelligence as the litmus for an animal’s. An elephant’s intelligence would be adapted to its own environment not ours. Putting its trunk in its mouth so as better to copy our sounds is impressive even if the words weren’t quite right. Watch the video below and see what you think. What seems beyond question is that these great beasts, like the great apes, are worth protecting and preserving not because they are like us, but because they enrich our world by being different.
Well, at least protecting elephants because they speak Korean is better than protecting elephants because they are delicious on rice.