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Information Theory to Study Animal Language Behaviour

Dialog with black box: using Information Theory to study animal language behaviour

Abstract  In this review, three main experimental approaches for studying animal language behaviour are compared: (1) direct decoding of animals’ communication, (2) the use of intermediary languages to communicate with animals and (3) application of ideas and methods of the Information Theory for studying quantitative characteristics of animal communication. Each of the three methodological approaches has its specific power and specific limitations. Deciphering animals’ signals reveals a complex picture of natural communication in its evolutionary perspective but only fragmentary because of many methodological barriers, among which low repeatability of standard living situations seems to be a bottleneck. Language-training experiments are of great help for discovering potentials of animal language behaviour but leaves characteristics of their natural communications unclear. The use of the methods of Information Theory is based on measuring the time duration that animals spend on transmitting messages of definite information content and complexity. This approach, although does not reveal the nature of animals’ signals, provides a new dimension for studying important characteristics of natural communication systems, which have not been available before. First of all, this approach enables explorers of animals’ language behaviour to obtain knowledge just about the ability of subjects for transferring meaningful messages. Besides, the important properties of animal communication and intelligence can be evaluated such as the rate of information transmission, the complexity of transferred information and potential flexibility of communication systems.

Keywords  Animal communication – Experimental approach – Information Theory – Deciphering signals – Intermediary languages

Zhanna Reznikova1 Contact Information
(1)      Institute for Animal Systematics and Ecology, Novosibirsk State University, Frunze 11, Novosubirsk, 630091, Russia

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 16, 2008 9:42 am

    I am interested in your research most especially to any clues as to how to develop a language with a wild animal species.
    Earlier attempts have proved excellent with responses from Indian Myna, some other black bird and a black and white song bird. However have not done much else. Still trying to come to grips with some basis or fundamental I can use. Only fundamental so far is that they are living like us.

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