The Secrets of Nim's

"You will speak with animals of every species in human speech and they with you in human speech."  - Leonardo da Vinci

I watched a documentary called: "Project Nim" which was about a chimp named "Nim Chimpsky" that was raised at birth by humans to study how, and if, a chimp could learn human language. Since chimps don't have the ability to vocalize human language they decided to teach him sign language instead. I won't get into the details about his life or the documentary but it was very sad. He was thrown around from family to researchers. From living and being treated like a human child to being kept in a small cage. He eventually ended up in a sanctuary where he lived out the remainder of his life. 

Animal communication is one of my biggest fascinations and ever since owning a few parakeets (Record for being able to speak almost 2000 words) I am fully confident that they could be taught to speak. Speaking of which - I haven't been able to get them to say a single understandable word... I know that they are capable - but it's been my consistency and lack of time spent with them that hinders 'our' progress. The other problem is that I have 4 of them which makes them less interested in me and more so with each other. If I only had one it would be a LOT easier to train.

Its very interesting to think about not "if" they can learn to speak but HOW to teach them? Flash Cards? Baby learning videos? Regardless, these are the factors that I've considered that would go into teaching an animal  to communicate. 

Form and Ability: 

You couldn't teach a dog sign language. You could teach them to understand sign language - but they don't have hands. You could teach a chim sign language - but not to actually "talk" verbally since their vocal cords don't allow for it. The same ideas apply to dolphins and elephants. So some other way would have to be devised - touch screens, large keyboards etc. Just because an animal doesn't have a way to communicate - doesn't mean that it is unable to. Some autistic people can't speak out-loud but they can type on a machine that does that for them like Stephen Hawking. 

Sociability: Desire to Communicate

Dogs are hardwired to "Serve" and to notice our intentions. Chimpanzees are not. They are better at easier things while apes are smarter at others. If you could train or breed a chim to be "Domesticated" and more 'dog like' then they could be a lot more civilized and willing to communicate and "take orders" Since teaching things that aren't required (not based on food and survival - like abstract communication) would require manipulating them into it because it is not Natural for them to please the teacher - only to learn passively by example and observation. Dogs on the other hand are programed to want to learn and please it's owner. They seek your expectations and intentions and aim to please.

This video shows what I mean. Something that should be as simple as pointing to a container hiding food - an ape couldn't do - but a dog could. 

Chimps only follow a leader because of the threat of violence and dominance - which they are always trying to over come. They are in a hierarchy or archetype that is the strongest on top. Dogs have are a lot more simple - they have an owner. Wolves - which dogs stem from are actually more similar to the chimp group structure but it's the "Domestication" and being in a family of humans that changed that. In a group of domesticated dogs, they will form a different hierarchy than within a human family. The main difference being they follow and take orders to please their master - out of love more than by force. 

Apes communicate with violence and  forced submission and intimidation. They are not "Domesticated" which seems to be something that can be bred into a species.

 They did a study with foxes and selectively bred the nicer and more social ones with each other and within only a few generations baby foxes were born 'domesticated." Instead of being afraid of people they sought their attention and affection - they started to act like "puppies' rather than wild foxes. Not only did their innate behavior change their appearance also started to alter. They actually began to look more friendly and "dog/ domesticated" like. Their coats changed, their ears changed, it almost alludes to there being a genetic connection between appearance and behavior. This is called "Neoteny"or "Pedomorphism" where an adult animal retains it's youthful characteristics. Big eyes, etc. 

  • :"Domestication has involved selection for behavioral characteristics that characterize young animals so, since "behavior is rooted in biology", domestication has resulted in an array of similar neotenous physical traits having arisen in various domesticated animals.[43] Such neotenous physical traits in domesticated animals such as dogs, pigs, cats, and recently foxes are floppy ears, changes in reproductive cycle, curly tails, piebald coloration, fewer or shortened vertebra,[43] large eyes, rounded forehead, large ears and shortened muzzle"

Proper upbringing: Nurture

Wolves require a certain time frame to become domesticated, if this is not met then they cannot become "domesticated" in the same way as if they were when they were pups. 

  • "Studies have shown that some wolf pups taken at an early age and reared by humans are easily tamed and 
  • socialized.[7] At least one study has demonstrated that adult wolves can be successfully socialized.[8]However, according to other researchers attempts to socialize wolves after the pups reach 21 days of age are very time-consuming and seldom practical or reliable in achieving success.[9]

Proper way to TEACH the language

The ability for that species to relay the information back in an "Acceptable" grammatical order. Just because they say: Food, give me. Doesn't mean they don't understand or are not saying and understanding that they are communicating that they want food. That is our bias. Some languages are different even within humanity and use different concepts and structure and don't even have words for things we do. 

Mimicry vs. Comprehension:

 People argue that when an animal communicates it's only mimicing what it was learned and associates that with getting something. Isn't that what we do ourselves? I want candy. And then a chimp signs "I want candy" how is that different? Don't they both want candy and know that if they do that sign or say that word they will get it? 


They go through teenaged and "Terrible two's" too. They will do things or not do things just to mess with you and test their boudaries - because eventually everything grows up and their focus turns more towards independence and this causes a rebellion. They dont want to do what they are told - they want to do what THEY want to do: Which is usually what you dont want them to. Thats how it works. Learning to communicate could be boring to them. 

Individuality vs. Random Selection
As with humans there are norms and exceptions. If you were to study one random person he or she could be comletely different from another person. The same would apply to the animals who were chosen for their studies. Since they are chosen from birth - there is no way to know if they will be suitable to be studied. IQ or the idea of a measurable intelligence would vary from subject to subject and there is no way to know that the individual being studied is average, dumb', or highly intelligent for that species. There are humans who are not able to learn to talk very well - to an even lesser degree than some animals. There are also humans that would be massively more intelligent than any animal or other humans. It could take years to realize if you have a good candidate since the time a species takes to mature is in proportion to intelligence. Humans are #1, then apes, elephants, parrots, aquatic mamals. They have similar if not longer life spans as humans. This means that unlike a puppy who is almost fully grown and mature at a year - it can take an ape or an elephant 10 years or more. 

Animal People:

The studies have always tried to be very scientific and controlled and the results doubted if they are not within the confines of "Science" but this could be the wrong way to approach communication. It could be that the structural approach would hinder the progress instead of helping it. There is an arrogance and skepticism in a lot of scientists who research animals objectively. An animal is an animal and separate from mankind. The implications if this were not true would lead to a very slippery slope of morality and the obligation and rights an animal would have. If a pig could talk or approached a certain level of consciousness, - bacon would be considered murder. There are others who have a lot of experience with animals directly and personally that have absolutely no doubt how smart and human-like a lot of animals are.

 Polls were taken and % of people would chose their dog / pet over their spouse. Some people pay and spend thousands for animals, their care, and even their burial/ cloning etc. Then there are others who just don't understand because they have not experienced it themselves. 

People Animals:

Some animals are very protective and personally attached: Strangers, especially those who are not "animal people" are treated very differently than they treat their owners. My dog would never bite or hurt me and would do anything I say - but she would bite and not listen to anyone else. Animals and their owners also develop their own unique "language and communication" that develops to almost a telepathic level. They know what each other are thinking and want based on subtle things that anyone else might not notice or perceive unless they spent the same amount of time with. Most people who have had dogs and cats are fully aware how intuned their pets are with their emotions and will comfort them when they need it. How do they know? Because they definitely do.  The same is reversed: we know what our animals are thinking and what they would do and react to certain situations. This is something that is hard to test and verify because it's subjective and personal between two individuals. 

"The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men." - Leonardo da Vinci

Man has great power of speech, but the greater part thereof is empty and deceitful. The animals have little, but that little is useful and true; and better is a small and certain thing than a great falsehood .


"In 1995 a budgerigar named Puck was credited by Guinness World Records as having the largest vocabulary of any bird, at 1,728 words."

The prime species for language studies would be a parakeet. They have the record for the most known words and mature quickly. They are easy to take care of -compared to an ape or an elephant and definitely a dolphin - and can could be bred in huge numbers - then ranked in their ability to communicate and intelligence and within a few years could be selectively bred to be "Smarter and more communicative' You would just find the smartest and then breed them together. Then do this with their offspring - and other parakeets and, like dogs, could be separated into new "breeds" such as border collies and blood hounds - but the variable would be intelligence and not herding or hunting. Since they mature quickly and have lots of babies - this could be done within a few generations. It would be like trying to breed a bigger parakeet - only select the largest and then breed them - but with intelligence. It should also be noted that it's VERY difficult to "Tame" an older Budgie from a pet store than it would be if they were hand raised. Also they speak very quickly and have strange voices so even if they were talking it could be very hard to understand. They sound a little bit like Yoda!

"You will speak with animals of every species in human speech and they with you in human speech." Leonardo da Vinci

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