Animals. They’re just like us.
Can people identify you by just your accent? Jersey, Boston, New York or the south; where you’re from is sometimes showcased in the way you pronounce words and what you say. Do you say “soda” or “pop”? Do you stretch your vowels or compress them? Is there a drawl that’s part of your speech signature?
Animals are they same way, they have accents too!
Accent differences are observed both across different species (such as different species of wolves) and across the same species living in different geographic regions. The accent differences are connoted by slight frequency and tone differences as well as vocal pacing differences.
Bats, dolphins, birds, monkeys and whales are among some of the animals in which obvious accent differences were observed.
Atlas Obscura has compiled some of the sounds of bats, birds, and whales to let you judge the differences yourself.
In 2013, a computer algorithm compiled and analyzed the howlings of different species of wolves and have been successfully able to affiliate a unique howl ID to each species of wolf, which will help scientists better monitor different wolf populations in the wild.
Shane Gero’s research on Caribbean sperm whales indicated that they have different pacing in their codas -- a series of clicking noises used for communication. These differences serve as identity cues for families, social groups and regional groups, providing a rich and complex social structure among them across the ocean. Something very similar was observed in humpback whales as well.
Monkeys showed dialect differences when their environments were changed. Macaques had slightly different frequency in their calls when they were miles apart from one another. This may be due to environmental differences, as one area had more forests, so calls needed to be higher in order to be heard clearly. The kind of vocal flexibility that allowed the same species of monkey to adjust their calls was something novel to scientists, as previously it was thought that only humans had the ability to do that. Another monkey study noted small semantic differences when the same species adapted to different types of environmental stimuli. For example, the same call with a small variation for the same species of Campbell’s monkeys across different japanese islands could mean the difference between “hey watch out” and “hey watch out for that leopard.” It hints at a cultural variation in language, even with animals.
Scientist Sean Roach once compared learned language in the hermit thrush -- a type bird -- to a game of telephone. Abrupt geographic separation of the species, such as through a glacial shift, is similar to if one were to divide the telephone game into two lines, with the end results of each line sounding different from each other and the original message. This regional divergence of song structure in the thrush interestingly correlated to the genetic and physical divergences in the birds’ ancestral line.
Recent studies have also suggested that pets, such as birds, cats and dogs, could pick up the owner’s accent, incorporating human dialect features such as tone and pitch into their own language.
Studying communication and dialect differences in animals can give us valuable insight into the mechanisms underlying the complex evolution of human language.