In Search of Ponies: Animal language simple

Sharna Johnson

I think many of us find within different social settings we adopt alternate vernaculars to our own.

For instance, when I visit my grandparents in the Appalachian Mountains, I develop a twang and blend words like “Ain’t” and “Y’all” into my vocabulary.

If I spend time with British friends, I inexplicably develop a brogue and find myself referring to “standing in the queue” or discover “bloody *&%” slips from my tongue as casually as my American curse words of choice.

And for some reason I now greet people with “Howdy” or “Hola,” not, I can say with certainty, words used as salutations in the east.

It all makes perfect sense I suppose. Proximity breeds familiarity and all that.

So years ago when a low growl issued from my throat as my dog sat beside me begging for my pizza, it didn’t strike me as odd at all.

Quite the contrary, it seemed quite natural.

And my dog understood me. It was magnificent.

Backing away and lowering his eyes, that little growl bought me a good 10 feet of standoff by which to enjoy my dinner.

Giddy with my newfound power I began hissing at my cats when they displeased me or got in my way.

“Haha! Who’s the top dog/cat now,” I thought.

Oh, they have to learn our language too. “Sit,” “Stay,” “Down”… But learning theirs is so much easier.

Animal language is simple; human language convoluted.

Some cultures even have specific words designed to convey emotion because there is no tonal change in their speech.

And God help you if you come up against a master of the “Southern graces” who can issue compliments dripping with sugary venom.

But for animals, communication is one with state of mind or emotion. There is no denying a happy bark or a sinister growl.

Sure, perhaps there are meanings only they understand, but we get the point…”Come play”, “I am about to tear you apart”, or “Oooohhh, a little to the right.”

Aristotle identified the distinction between humans and animals as speech and more specifically the ability to articulate.

“For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. The mere voice, it is true, can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well,” he said.

“But speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities.”

How true. A dog can communicate pain or embarrassment or joy but he cannot analyze those emotions – explain why or how he feels them.

And by the same token a dog has no moral compunction. He will steal a scrap of food without a second thought unless a stronger force acts to stop him.

For all our efforts to advance as humans, one look at the animal world shows us we have all but lost our sincerity, spinning webs of words that disguise the core of our meanings.

And in political correctness, our meanings are often lost entirely.

Ironically though they lack the words, animals are more expressive, concise and without question more honest.

While I certainly wouldn’t advocate going around growling or barking all the time, it wouldn’t hurt us to learn from animals.