How does the human language is different from animal language?

We all know that not only humans but there are multiple species in the world who has their own language to communicate with their community, one of them is animal who also has some special kind of language to communicate.

But how animal language is different and do they have any similarities with the human’s language, let’s discuss below;

So, one of the best ways to understand what human and animal language is, we need to compare with the system of their languages. The system has been categorized to make it understandable

Use of sound and signals

The use of sounds and signals is the perhaps the most obvious characteristic of human language, but this characteristic is not unique as well as important because a lot of animals use sounds for communication.

And it is not important because human beings can transfer language to visual symbols, for example; in the form of sign or written, and to tactile symbols like Braille, this makes different form the human from animal communication. Animals cannot use braille communication.


In the case of animals there is generally an apparent relation between the signal and the message the animal wishes to convey. For example, an animal who wishes to wan off an opponent will generally simulate an attacking attitude. A cat, for instance, will arch its back, spit and appear ready to pounce.

On the other hand, if we look at human language carefully, we see that except in the case of onomatopoeic words or expressions, there is no logical relationship between the signal and the message. The signals used by human beings are hence arbitrary. For example, there is no logical relationship between the word and the thing it symbolizes.

Had there been an intrinsic or logical relationship between the two, then why would the same thing be called ‘pani’ in Hindi? It is all the more interesting to note that in Hindi itself there is another word for water i.e. ‘jal’.

The need for learning

It appears that the role played by ‘learning’ in animal communication is very little. Their language is more or less genetically inbuilt. For example, bee-dancing, which is used by the bees to convey information about the source of nectar is quite the same in the bee colonies all over the world. And since, we do not expect the bees all over the world to be holding conferences, we have to agree with the hypothesis that they are born with this language.

Another interesting thing to notice is that if a human child is brought up in isolation, he/she does not acquire language, whereas birds reared in isolation sing songs that are recognizable. Human beings require a long exposure to language in order to acquire it. This does not mean that human language is totally conditioned by the environment.

According to Chomsky, human beings are born with an innate Language Acquisition Device (LAD), but environment plays an important role in triggering this innate ability. We should note that every normal child learns an extremely complex grammatical system before he/she turns three years old.

Language is certainly or of the greatest wonders of human societies, it cannot be accomplished unless we were endowed with an innate language faculty.

So, we can say that although both humans and animals seem to be genetically predisposed to acquire language, it seems in humans, this latent potentially can only be activated by long exposure to language, which requires careful learning.


Most animals can communicate about things in the immediate environment only. A bird utters its cry of danger when danger is around. It cannot give information about a danger which is removed in time and place.

On the other hands, Human beings can communicate about things that are absent as easily as about things that are present, this phenomenon is known as displacement. It occasionally occurs in the animal world, for example, in the communication of honey bees. If a worker bee finds a new source of nectar, it returns to the hive and performs a complex dance in order to inform the other bees of the exact location of the nectar, which may be several miles away. But even bees are limited in this ability. They can inform each other about nectar only.

Whereas human beings can cope with any subject whatever, and it does not matter how far away the topic of conversation is in time and space.


Most animals have a fixed number of messages which are sent in clearly definable circumstances. For example, a North American cicada can give only four messages and a male grasshopper has a choice of six. research conducted on dolphins, birds and bees has also shown that they are unable to say anything new.

Human beings on the other hand, can talk about anything they like. They can produce and understand utterances which they have never produced or heard before. It is also not necessary that the same situation would make them utter the same thing each time.

So, we can say that creativity is an important characteristics, which distinguishes human communication from animal communication.

Duality or double articulation

Animals who use sound signals for communicating have a finite set of basic sounds. The number of basic sounds varies from species to species. Cows, for example, have less than ten, whereas foxes have over thirty. Most animals use each basic sound only once, or occasionally few simple combinations of these basic sounds. This means that the number of messages that animal can convey is almost limited to the number of basic sounds that animal possesses.

In contrast, human language works very differently. Every language has a set of thirty to forty basic sounds which are called phonemes. These phonemes are generally meaningless in isolation.

Imagine a person uttering the basic sounds, a..k.u..t..v..r..l..j..h.. do you think it would be possible for this person to convey any meaning? These basic sounds or phonemes become meaningful only when they combine with each other in accordance with the rules of a language. So, we can say that human language is organized into two levels or layers; i.e. a layer of individual sounds which combine with each other to form the second layer of bigger units like words.  This kind of organization into two layers is called duality or double articulation.

There was a time, when it was thought that duality was a characteristic unique to human language. But now some people claim duality is not unique to humans as it is also present in bird songs where each individual note is meaningless. It is the combination of notes which conveys meaningful messages. However, the complex ways in which words are combined to create an infinite number of sentences may indeed be unique to humans.


Close to the phenomena of duality is patterning. As you are aware most animal systems of communication comprise a simple list of sounds. There does not seem to be any internal organization within the system.

Human language, on the other hand, has well defined internal patterns. There are firm restrictions on which elements (sounds, words, etc.) can occur together and in order. For example, take the sounds, O, P, T, S in English. These sounds can be arranged in the following six ways like; SPOT, STOP, POST, POT, POTS, and TOPS. Other possibilities like; TSOP, PTOS, OPST, are not possible because the rules of English do not allow these.

Structure Dependence

human beings instinctively understand the patterned nature of language and manipulate structured chunks of language i.e. they understand that a group of words can be, at times, the structural equivalent of one word.

See the following examples in a sentence

The boy who proposed to me gave me a bouquet of flowers he agave me a really beautiful bouquet of flowers.

The above sentence can be rearranged according to the rules of the language, for example, the rule of passivization;

A bouquet of beautiful flowers given to me by the boy who proposed me.

Therefore, this kind of communication does not seem to be present in any other animal system of communication.

Other charcteristics

Human language has many more characteristics besides the ones discussed above. These are generally not unique to humans. Like; Recipocrity or interchangeability, Rapid fading, Spontaneous usage, Turn taking etc.

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