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Annyong, anja, nuo, aniya, choah, very choah
November 2, 2012 11:24 AM   Subscribe

We document a male Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) that imitates human speech, matching Korean formants and fundamental frequency in such detail that Korean native speakers can readily understand and transcribe the imitations. (full text, PDF, video and sound files) (Previously: the belugas NOC and Lagosi, Hoover the talking seal, unfortunately paywalled) (via Homunculus)
posted by elgilito (33 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
This Gangnam Style thing has really taken over.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:28 AM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


We always knew elephants were smart, but geez.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:36 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trainer: Annyong.
Koshik: Annyong.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:36 AM on November 2, 2012 [15 favorites]


Woah.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:42 AM on November 2, 2012


Yeah, I have nothing to add but wow.
posted by duvatney at 11:48 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unless we have video of a donkey speaking a language, I'm afraid I'm going to have to report this one-sided airing to the Federal Election Commission.
posted by Atreides at 11:57 AM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


i have no good excuse for why i don't know a second language.
posted by cupcake1337 at 12:17 PM on November 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


This is the same thing a parrot does, right?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:32 PM on November 2, 2012


After the talking beluga whale thread, I ran across this video of a dolphin "yelling" at a person. Notice how it goes from the clicks and whistles to open its mouth and making a charlie brown adult pitch? Of course I know nothing about dolphin vocalizations so I really have no idea if it's normal or not.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:41 PM on November 2, 2012


Atreides: Unless we have video of a donkey speaking a language ...

Careful what you ask for.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw Hoover the "talking" seal several times as a kid and was always less than impressed with his trick.
posted by briank at 1:20 PM on November 2, 2012


Elephants are smart enough that if they could talk, they would almost definitely have some things to say. This is really quite cool.
posted by Scientist at 1:33 PM on November 2, 2012


Maybe elephants have been trying to talk to us all along, but they only speak Korean, so no one has understood until now.
posted by neroli at 1:40 PM on November 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


"Annyong."
"That's not getting old."
posted by Flashman at 2:03 PM on November 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Elephant-human hybrid superbeings should be our nation's goal.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:16 PM on November 2, 2012


I have my doubts, here, as I do with most scientific 'breakthroughs' out of my adopted home. Outright fabrication is all too common, and academic rigor isn't.

We'll see if it gets independently verified, I guess. If so, neat!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:22 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Elephant-human hybrid superbeings should be our nation's goal.

They've been around since before the earth was formed...
posted by kaibutsu at 3:35 PM on November 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Elephant And Beluga Whale Talk About Art Rock
posted by homunculus at 3:58 PM on November 2, 2012


stavros, the lead author on the paper is a German researcher working at the University of Vienna, which is where this study was conducted. The elephant is in Sri Lanka but the research for this paper was conducted in Germany using recordings and native Korean speakers. Also, Current Biology is a pretty serious journal, not known for publishing quackery.
posted by Scientist at 4:17 PM on November 2, 2012


This is the same thing a parrot does, right?

It's hard to know. Elephants are intelligent enough that if they could figure out the whole speech thing to even a rudimentary extent, they would be doing a lot more than parroting.

But then, we know that parrots have a pretty good grasp of speech having symbolic meaning and being able to understand spoken english.

(We have similar evidence in dogs.)

It all requires more research. But it's an interesting phenomenon in an individual, and one which SHOULD prompt more science on the topic.

(Sadly, even if we do prove that elephants can learn language and are using it communicate, it will likely take too long and be too late and take too much time for this knowledge to spread for it to stop the rampant poaching which is going to mean no more elephants in the wild probably in the next 20-30 years.

And now I have to stop thinking about that, because it makes me feel the way I feel when I think about the polar bears swimming endlessly looking for ice to stand on.)
posted by hippybear at 5:15 PM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Damnit, hippybear, I almost made it the whole day without a drink.
posted by sarastro at 5:59 PM on November 2, 2012


hippybear and sarastro, if it makes you feel any better I'm about to start a PhD program in Central Africa which is a small part of a large project that will likely end up doubling the area of reserves in Gabon and Cameroon and will hopefully improve the lot of forest elephants in the region. Those are African elephants of course and only one subspecies, and granted there are crippling enforcement issues in the region, but we're trying. We're bringing in anthropologists and sociologists to collect microsocioeconomic data and we're going to try to build reserves that work not only for the wildlife of the present but also for the wildlife of the future and for the people who live near them, so that we can hopefully start coming to grips with the poaching issue which is an absolutely terrible, nearly unmitigated problem at the moment. It's terribly sad, but we're trying.
posted by Scientist at 6:04 PM on November 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sadly, preserves don't seem to be doing much to protect the wildlife. This two-part report on NPR from just last week made it pretty clear that poachers are treating game reserves as their animal shopping malls. Of course, this is in Tanzania, so perhaps you'll have better luck in the area to which you're going. But frankly, I don't have much hope.

Prove me wrong. I dare beg you.
posted by hippybear at 6:17 PM on November 2, 2012



And now I have to stop thinking about that, because it makes me feel the way I feel when I think about the polar bears swimming endlessly looking for ice to stand on


For whatever reason, this is the ONE THING that makes me put down whatever I'm doing and go look at the wall for a while.
posted by sweetkid at 9:47 PM on November 2, 2012


It's like the entire animal kingdom is trying to learn human speech. Probably so they can tell us to fuck off. It's not like we don't have that coming.
posted by looli at 11:02 PM on November 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


hippybear, poaching in preserves is indeed a huge problem in many parts of the world. It is certainly a huge problem in Central Africa where I am going to be working, probably the biggest problem for large mammals like elephants and primates.

That doesn't mean that all reserves are failing, though. Reserves have a lot of challenges -- poaching among them -- and some of them are definitely in big trouble but this letter to Nature discusses a recent meta-analysis the bottom line of which is basically that about half of reserves are in pretty good shape and that it depends a lot on whether or not they enjoy continued support from the community around them. It also depends on how they were set up in the first place with, for instance, large reserves tending to do a better job of holding onto their biodiversity than small ones. None of this is groundbreaking but it's nice to have some confirmation that reserves aren't all inherently doomed and that if we are careful and diligent we can build reserves that are relatively stable.

We are learning from our past efforts, as well. The project that I am a small part of is taking some of the lessons that are discussed in that letter along with quite a few others and is working to identify areas for preservation that will satisfy the highest standards of current knowledge for how to build stable reserves. We are looking not only at areas with high aesthetic value or areas with high levels of intrinsic biodiversity, but also at areas that have high levels of ecological functionality and which contain sources of adaptive potential, so that as the environment changes the communities within them will remain resilient. We are gathering socioeconomic data on both macro and micro levels so that we can choose reserves that are unlikely to be uprooted for logging or petroleum extraction or that will be bulldozed for urban expansion, and so that we can choose places that will be respected and valued by the humans living near them. We are working to build capacity at local universities so that the countries in which the reserves will be founded will be better able to study them and improve them and make recommendations for their preservation without relying as much on outside assistance. And we are doing all of this in a part of the world that has the second largest swath of intact primary forest and which has two sympathetic national governments who have already expressed amenability to our plans.

This is kind of a dream project in a lot of ways and those kind of conditions certainly don't exist all over the world, but we have learned a lot about how to do these projects in a way that is successful and which creates reserves that will last. I don't mean to say that there aren't huge challenges and there aren't a lot of reserves that don't work or even more commonly a lot of places that need reserves but which will never get them. I realize that if you look at it from a certain angle the entire conservation movement is at best doing the equivalent of putting band-aids on an amputated limb. I don't mean to suggest that we are doing everything that needs to be done. However, sometimes we do get things right and we are learning to get things right more and more often.
posted by Scientist at 11:04 AM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can you imagine if one day animals become sentient, communicative beings on our level and we have to throw out the Bible and take account for all the slaughter that has taken place? Trippy.
posted by phaedon at 3:09 PM on November 3, 2012


Beluga Logosi? Very punny!
posted by Soliloquy at 5:27 PM on November 3, 2012


I find it really interesting that when it does the vocalizations, it seems to be using its trunk to modify the shape of its mouth to more properly form the phonemes.
posted by Vamier at 8:40 AM on November 5, 2012


Baby Parrot Screaming Match
posted by homunculus at 11:02 AM on November 6, 2012


Tipsy elephants ransacked village after guzzling local liquor
posted by homunculus at 9:20 AM on November 9, 2012


A Tasty Treat for the Slime-Mold: More Inane Reporting on Animal Cognition
posted by homunculus at 8:33 PM on November 9, 2012


Peter the Elephant plays a Green Piano
posted by homunculus at 10:48 AM on November 27, 2012


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