Wouldn’t it be amazing if our pets could speak? When you talk to your pet, even if it is gibberish, it often feels like they understand you and are responding to you like a human.
So why is it that humans can speak multiple languages, but animals can’t? In simple terms, it’s because human brains are different. Let’s look further into this and find out exactly what makes us different from animals.
Before we dive into the science behind our unique linguistic brains, let’s understand the difference between communication and language. All animals can communicate – even the tiny, microscopic amoeba! It may not be in a specific human language we use, but they communicate with one another and their environment through non-verbal communication. In fact, communication is in-built into living things since birth and doesn’t need to be learnt. For example, when a foal is born, the mother horse doesn’t tell it how to neigh and what pitch in neighing means – they are familiar with the functions!
It’s similar in humans too. A baby will know to cry when it’s hungry or wants attention, and it knows to point or grab an object it likes. Language is just a kind of communication we humans use while speaking and needs to be learnt. It’s the only kind of communication that needs to be taught and is distinct to humans.
Surely we have witnessed some parrots and monkeys ‘talk’ like humans, but that is simply a mimicry of the humans around them. They use their tongues and throats to recreate sounds they hear from humans over time, but they’re not really communicating or talking.
So what makes humans remarkably special that we’ve found a unique and complex way to communicate?
According to scientists, one of the main factors that set us apart is that our brains are different from other animals. The human brain is an extraordinary organ that is divided into different parts that focuses on specific functions of the body. In the cerebrum, a region called the Broca’s area is associated with everything related to speech and language. Other animals, including apes, our evolutionary ancestors, don’t have the Broca’s area. Hence, they don’t have the capability to form speech the way we do.
Another component that makes human brains unique is the ‘FOXP2’ gene. This gene is responsible for giving instructions to other genes on how to function, related to our vital internal organs, like the heart, brain, and digestive system. It is also the gene that informs our speech patterns and the ability to talk. When this gene is mutated or undergoes any changes in any manner, it restrains our ability to speak.
While there is no definitive reason as to why we can form languages and animals can’t, these two factors help point us in one direction – evolution. Humans have evolved in a manner that makes us the most intelligent creatures on Earth. And we have the words to prove it.
If animals could speak like us, what do you think they’d say? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Madhavi is passionate about everything to do with books, art, literature, films, trivia and food. A former journalist, she believes that asking questions makes life interesting.
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