Scientists are studying prairie dogs to see if they can find some answers to the most intriguing questions of language and communication among animals. Prairie dogs are genetically related to squirrels and are of similar stature. They dig deep burrows underground to live in and live in small family groups in North America. A family unit consists of one dominant male, a few adult females, and their children. Their burrows include all the comforts of life, safety exits, storage rooms, sleeping areas and toilet rooms.
Dr. Con Slobodchikoff has been studying prairie dogs intensely for the past 20 years. He has been leading research at the Northern Arizona University and has come to some fascinating conclusions. Based on video and audio tapes he has taken of the animals responding to new stimuli in their own environment Dr. Slobodchikoff has come to believe that prairie dogs are in possession of a rich and complex vocabulary, including parts of speech such as nouns, verbs and adjectives.
In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star from January 2006, Dr. Slobodchikoff explains that,
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“Within these calls, they [prairie dogs] can describe the physical features of the predator. They can describe the size and shape of an individual human and the color of clothes that he or she is wearing. They can describe the coat color and the size and shape of a domestic dog. . . . Our studies are showing that prairie dogs have the most sophisticated natural animal language that has been decoded to date.”
These studies are just the beginning. Perhaps other members of the animal kingdom are also capable of such advanced abilities at communication. More research is needed to find out if man’s use of language is really as unique as we think.