Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

An elephant that speaks Korean

Date:
November 1, 2012
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
An Asian elephant named Koshik can imitate human speech, speaking words in Korean that can be readily understood by those who know the language. The elephant accomplishes this in a most unusual way: he vocalizes with his trunk in his mouth.

This image shows Ashley Stoeger and Daniel Mietchen recording Koshik's vocalizations at the Everland Zoo in South Korea.
Credit: Current Biology, Stoeger et al.

An Asian elephant named Koshik can imitate human speech, speaking words in Korean that can be readily understood by those who know the language. The elephant accomplishes this in a most unusual way: he vocalizes with his trunk in his mouth.

The elephant's vocabulary consists of exactly five words, researchers report on November 1 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. Those include "annyong" ("hello"), "anja" ("sit down"), "aniya" ("no"), "nuo" ("lie down"), and "choah" ("good"). Ultimately, Koshik's language skills may provide important insights into the biology and evolution of complex vocal learning, an ability that is critical for human speech and music, the researchers say.

"Human speech basically has two important aspects, pitch and timbre," says Angela Stoeger of the University of Vienna. "Intriguingly, the elephant Koshik is capable of matching both pitch and timbre patterns: he accurately imitates human formants as well as the voice pitch of his trainers. This is remarkable considering the huge size, the long vocal tract, and other anatomical differences between an elephant and a human."

For one thing, Stoeger says, elephants have a trunk instead of lips. While their large larynx can produce very low-pitched sounds, Koshik's speech mimicry exactly copies the pitch and other characteristics of his human trainers' voices. A structural analysis of Koshik's speech showed not just clear similarities to human voices, but also clear differences from the usual calls of elephants.

There have been some earlier reports of vocal mimicry in both African and Asian elephants. African elephants have been known to imitate the sound of truck engines, and a male Asian elephant living in a zoo in Kazakhstan was said to produce utterances in both Russian and Kazakh, but that case was never scientifically investigated.

In the case of Koshik, Angela Stoeger, Daniel Mietchen, Tecumseh Fitch, and their colleagues confirmed that Koshik was imitating Korean words in several ways. First, they asked native Korean speakers to write down what they heard when listening to playbacks of the elephant's sounds.

"We found a high agreement concerning the overall meaning, and even the Korean spelling of Koshik's imitations," Stoeger says. But as far as the scientists can tell, Koshik doesn't actually mean what he says.

It's not completely clear why Koshik adopted his unusual vocal behavior, but the researchers suggest that it might go back to his days as a juvenile. Koshik was the only elephant living at the Everland Zoo in South Korea for about five years, during an important period for elephant bonding and development. Humans were his only social contacts.

"We suggest that Koshik started to adapt his vocalizations to his human companions to strengthen social affiliation, something that is also seen in other vocal-learning species -- and in very special cases, also across species," Stoeger says.

Recording of Koshik imitating human speech: Trainer (first) and Koshik (second) producing "annyong"(hello): http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/49235.php?from=224898


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. AngelaS. Stoeger, Daniel Mietchen, Sukhun Oh, Shermin deSilva, ChristianT. Herbst, Soowhan Kwon, W.Tecumseh Fitch. An Asian Elephant Imitates Human Speech. Current Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.09.022

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "An elephant that speaks Korean." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 November 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121101121534.htm>.
Cell Press. (2012, November 1). An elephant that speaks Korean. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121101121534.htm
Cell Press. "An elephant that speaks Korean." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121101121534.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Buzz60 (Oct. 20, 2014) An entomologist stumbled upon a South American Goliath Birdeater. With a name like that, you know it's a terrifying creepy crawler. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Adorable Video of Baby Rhino and Lamb Friend Playing

Adorable Video of Baby Rhino and Lamb Friend Playing

Buzz60 (Oct. 20, 2014) Gertjie the Rhino and Lammie the Lamb are teaching the world about animal conservation and friendship. TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) has the adorable video! Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins