A Dog’s World – A World without Language…

What is language??

The dictionary defines language as “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way”… Words are basic core of what makes language… Words are universally assigned to objects / actions / emotions and since they are universally assigned they can be used to communicate with others because everyone’s understanding of the word is the same…

For example, the word for this picture below would be “cheese and pepperoni pizza”…

pizza_adven_zestypepperoni

If I knew no words how would I describe this object to myself?? How would I catalogue this object in my mind and memory if I had no words for it??? I probably would remember it as a detailed visual of the cheese and pepperoni and pizza combined with detailed memories of how it looked and how delicious it smelt & tasted right??

If I knew no words then how would I describe this object to another human?? If the object was in the vicinity I could probably point to it… But what if it wasn’t?? Then how do I share my knowledge or memory or want of a pizza with another?? If there was pizza around but it was a chicken pizza how would I correct another person’s interpretation of my need without words to describe both cheese and pepperoni?? Unique Problems!!

For a normal human being, a life without words and language is quite impossible to imagine… Language has become such an integral part of our lives that words are our constant inner companion… A life without language presents unique challenges that would need us to be quite creative in finding ways to navigate this world… Yet, this is a challenge that a few humans (hearing impaired people who have not had access to learn sign language) and all the animals in the world have found ways around… Understanding how the world would be viewed without the assistance of words requires some special creative skills…

What does a life without language mean to a dog???

## Lack of Language does not mean Lack of Communication:

Dogs do not have a language filled with words, but they have evolved with a rich range of vocalisations & body language to communicate with each other and us humans… Almost 30signals have been recorded by noted canine behaviourist and ethologist Turid Rugaas in her book “In Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals”. Knowledge of this doggy communication will open our eyes to the unique world of our dogs… While dogs may not be able to communicate complex information (Eg: Describing a pizza is beyond their capacity) they do pretty well at expressing their emotional state without words…

## A world without words is a world filled with vivid pictures:

With no words to compartmentalise information in their brains, dogs need to rely on their sensory perceptions (vision / hearing / smell / touch / taste) to create detailed memory banks from which they can draw and process information about the world… This visual perception of the world is something autistic people also share and is described in great length in the book “Animals in Translation” by Temple Grandin… A Dog’s perception of the world is shaped by the unfiltered raw sensory data he collects all day long which forms detailed memory banks that he calls upon to navigate the world…

## Words mean squat to our canine buddies:

Often people have long conversations with their dogs… Sometimes they talk about their own human lives believing their dog is a friendly ear, other times they give lectures to on proper behaviour or scold their dogs for a perceived naughtiness… While dogs can exhibit a range of reactions from tilting their head cutely to giving the “guilty look”, we need to remember that they have no understanding of words or language and all they hear is a mixed jumble of tones and sounds and all they are reacting to is our emotional state… A little more understanding about what a life without words means is needed…

## Lack of Language does not mean Lack of Thinking or Cognition:

Does the fact that dogs have no language mean that they are a creature of instinct and training rather than a creature of thinking and cognition?? To answer this question we need to think about something deeper… Is language a precondition for the existence of thought, or is it just an expression of thought?? Language can be a great addition to a person’s cognitive repertoire, but it is definitely not the ONLY resource for cognition… Cognition is defined as “problem solving in novel situations” and one needs to just look at street dogs (who don’t have language) to know wonderful their cognition skills are…

Imagine if you will that you were born with a hearing disability… That you could see other people’s lips move but you could not hear anything… That you had no understanding of words… And assume that you have not had access to sign language… What would such a world be like?? There is a great article by Susan Schaller in the Neuroanthropology webpage that talks about such an experience (https://neuroanthropology.net/2010/07/21/life-without-language/) and it is a great read if you want to put yourself in the shoes of a “language-less” living being…

The absence of language creates a unique world for our dogs… It is not necessarily a better world nor is it a worse world than the ones we humans who are NOT “language-less” inhabit… But stretching our imagination to empathize with a world where no words exist can help us better understand and interact with our dogs… Happy imaginations!! 👍

Reference:

  • Animals in Translation, Author Temple Grandin
  • A Man without Words, Author Susan Schaller
  • In Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, Author Turid Rugaas
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